I don’t buy books at airports. When I fly, I read poetry collections. They don’t take up much space. You can pack five poetry volumes in the place of one novel. You can start and finish them over the course of one flight. Plus, when you read poetry, you are guaranteed to arrive at your destination with new ideas and insights, in general, a much more interesting person than you were upon departure.
On my most recent flight from LA to Nashville, I packed Tupelo Press’s recent Tension : Rupture, a collaborative ekphrastic number by poet Cutter Streeby and visual artist Michael Haight, two UC Riverside alums.
The first poem, Streeby’s “Framework: A Vessel (Notes on a Grecian Urn),” grounds the collection in the ekphrastic tradition. As in Keats’ ode, Streeby allows the speaker to give the impression that the poem’s weight comes to him even as he meditates on the process of forming a vessel from clay. With these lines from the poem’s last stanza, Streeby brings to light the human behind the art, and with it the external forces that shape the artist:
…but I know the
truth of it like this : what it is is spinning, what I am is responding
to pressures from the outside in, and from the inside out, equally.
I’ve been searching for contemporary work like this for a while now; poetry that is imaginative, challenging, that offers an uncontrolled groundedness without spoon-feeding. Streeby leaves room for discovery but at the same time orchestrates the reader’s experience within the temporal, dynamic, evocative spinning of the speaker’s world: “Let’s see what I find when looking for nothing.” The reader finds a world where the breath of alcoholic mothers, visions of horses, and seaside escapes amid personal tragedy all coexist; a world perfectly compatible with Haight’s Alcoholic Crepuscles where bold lines offer suggestions––details bleed into other depictions to inform the whole.
In Haight’s “Alcoholic Crepuscle #11” (The House on the Hill), we see a small white house––tiny, insignificant if not for the clue in the subtitle. Once noticed, it is a visual anchor the rest of the painting swells out of. The lines of each figure struggling to contain, to remain intact and yet, contribute to a larger image.
If the poems were more narratively contained, the paintings more direct, they wouldn’t offer us discovery with each reading. As is, though, this is a book to visit and revisit. Each reading is a different trip.
K. D. Harryman's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative, Cream City Review, The Greensboro Review, Los Angeles Review and Verse Daily among others. She is the recipient of the 2019 Rumi Prize sponsored by Arts & Letters and the 2018 James Hearst Poetry Prize sponsored by North American Review. Her first book, Auto Mechanic's Daughter, was selected by Chris Abani for the Black Goat Poetry Series Imprint at Akashic Books in Brooklyn. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.