Sunday, June 26, 2011
What do a French Impressionist from the 1800's
and a 21st century poet have in common?
More than one might think if you look at this weeks review of
Allison Benis White's book Self-Portrait with Crayon.
Here, words become the bridge whose span arches across the centuries,
to bind together the delicate and vivid artistry of Degas the French Impressionist,
with Benis White's own creation.
The author explores her past as a child abandoned by her mother,
and as a woman trying to interpret that fact.
In her own words she describes how the process worked for her:
"When I stared writing prose poems that meditated on Degas’ artwork, I didn't know I was writing a book. In fact, I wrote the first one as a random exercise in response to a postcard of Degas’ “Combing the Hair” I brought home from London—and in responding to that painting, I found, to my surprise, that I could write about my mother’s disappearance in a way I never could before. So I tried it again, with Degas’ “Dancers in Blue,” and it worked again. So I kept going. I had found a way in."
And found a way in she has.
Her words are beautifully composed in prose form and are at times achingly vulnerable, yet love is always present.
Like a little girl playing with broken shards of glass., only feelings are what she's really holding. Her poems are written from the inside out, in dancing shimmering imagery.
Excerpt from Self-Portrait with Crayon:
The Dance Examination
My mother wore a small black hat to her father’s funeral, but this is private. She was a child. He was never to be mentioned again. Therefore the story is brief and somewhat fictional. Often children are not allowed at a hospital or funeral. My grandmother burned his clothes, his shoes in the incinerator. Now we can dress him however we choose and forever. When there is nothing left, everything is possible. Like a drawing of heaven or the yellow room where the dancers will be judged.
Everyday has led up to this movement and her body could not remember how to invite the shape of the turn. We will live as long as we have someone to tell. After the burial, my mother warned her younger brother he would turn black if he did not go to bed. Smearing his cheeks with shoe polish, she turned him toward the mirror. It is already happening. All stories persist to explain the end. I will try and fail again. The way a child fails to suppress a smile when she lies, crossing out her mouth with both hands."
Who cannot be inspired by that one line,
"When there is nothing left, everything is possible."
The title of this book is its own perfect description.
It is a written map of how, not only to survive ones past but superbly tell the tale.
Buy Self-Portrait with Crayon at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=self+portrait+with+crayon&x=11&y=23v
To read more, visit Allison's web site: http://www.allisonbeniswhite.com
Allison Benis White is the author of Self-Portrait with Crayon, winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and Pleiades. Her honors include the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, the Bernice Slote Award from Prairie Schooner, and a Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. She recently completed a second manuscript, “Small Porcelain Head,” which received the James D. Phelan award for a work-in-progress from the San Francisco Foundation. She teaches at the University of California, Irvine.