Friday, April 10, 2009

Alan Catlin: Effects of Sunlight in the Fog

A new book has come across my desk at work by an old friend of Lilliput Review and renowned small press poet, Alan Catlin. Over the years I've published a few dozen of his poems, which is saying a lot considering my reputation for fussy. A handful of the poems that have appeared in Lilliput have dealt with the subject of art or more precisely have used it as a springboard for exploration, including poems dealing with Magritte, Hokusai, and Thomas Cole.

His new volume, Effects of Sunlight in the Fog, published by Bright Hill Press, is literally brilliant, pun intended. Gathering these works on art together
in one place (I know it isn't all of them as the ones published in Lillie, mentioned above, are not in the collection) has brought into sharp relief Alan's approach and technique; for me, it is very reminiscent of a particular style of haiku. Catlin does not give us answers so much as, with the image conjured, describe and evoke. Here is Janet McCann's take from the Bright Hill website:

"A poetic mediatation on the relationship of the artist to his Art, on the variant conditions that temper seeing; how we see and what is seen. Through consideration on works of artists a series of individual poetic images evolves. Art and poetry as one, on the page. "The spare, image-laden lines of this collection of ekphrastic poetry make it a memorable treat. Alan Catlin evokes Monet, Whistler, Bonnard, and others in skilled sketches that evoke the paintings and interpret them at once. His precise diction carves word-pictures that mirror the painting, calling forth and naming their shadows. 'Effects of Sunlight in the Fog' is a delight to read and ponder." - Janet McCann.

Poem after poem in this does exactly what she describes. I'll confess for a fondness for poetry about art and, obviously, for Alan's work in general, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that this collection as a whole took me completely, delightfully by surprise. His evocation of light alone is worth the price of the book for anyone who has ever wondered: how did that magician do that trick? Here he sketches the point where paint and lines may not go:

A Voice from the Cliffs
-– Winslow Homer, 1882
The three young
women have all

heard the same
sounds, something

ethereal from well–
beyond the cliffs,

this beach they
walk every day

carrying their wares
in hand woven

wicker baskets;
what they see is

something the wind
has suggested, some-

thing that cannot
be easily described

by words or brush
but they all know

exactly what it is
and what it means for them
Alan Catlin

The haiku element I mentioned above is in the so-perfect capturing of nature that associations are created in the mind of the reader; the whole is so much greater than its parts. Here's the poem from which the collection title comes:

Waterloo Bridge: Effects of Sunlight in the Fog
--Claude Monet, 1903
Dull blue
grey night

in the after
noon; a

ripple of

water colored
by sun;

in the mist
human shadows

formed remain
Alan Catlin

Poem after poem explores otherness, otherness of both place and identity. Perhaps, one truth here is that they are one and the same: a thought that would not be foreign to Eastern poets and should not be for us. Another truly remarkable aspect of this collection is that one need not know or look at the original art to appreciate the poems; they are fully realized, in and of themselves. This is a book to buy and cherish as one does the precious paintings it so sparingly yet lovingly describes. It is diminutive only in size (4 x 6") and price ($8.00).

Support the small press; order this volume direct from Bright Hill. Just page down a bit from this link. I guarantee you'll enjoy it.


Speaking of the other, yesterday was the birthday of the ultimate other, Charles Baudelaire. He is, frankly, one of my very favorite vices. Some of the greatest enjoyment I've gotten from his work is the reading of the myriad translations that have been done into English. Though I tend to like the work of old-schooler Wallace Fowlie, all the others seem to bring something to the table, another interesting angle. Taken altogether, the translations get closest to a realization of the actual Charles Baudelaire; reading them all evokes another ideal translation, one that only exists in the mind of the reader.

I suppose this is true for any great poet whose work has been translated many times. Baudelaire, for me, is the one that I've felt this with most powerfully. Here's one I enjoy that doesn't come from the deep shadows:

Evening Harmony
Now comes the time when quivering on its stem
Each flower exhales like a censer;
Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;
Melancholy waltz and languorous vertigo.

Each flower exhales like a censer;
The violin sobs like an afflicted heart;
Melancholy waltz and languorous vertigo!
The sky is as sad and and beautiful as a great altar of rest.

The violin sobs like an afflicted heart,
A tender heart, which hates the huge black void!
The sky is as sad and and beautiful as a great altar of rest.
The sun drowned in its blood as it coagulates.

A tender heart, which hates the huge black void,
Welcomes every vestige of a luminous past!
The sun drowned in its blood as it coagulates ...
Your memory shines in me like a monstrance.
Charles Baudelaire (tr. by Wallace Fowlie)

in scattering blossoms
holding out his bowl...
holy man
translated by David Lanoue



Anonymous said...

Catlin sure and
surely knows
howtouse punctua

what you give us
a breath of

fresh aire


I like that he (a
so) knows how to;
spell "gray"

thanks, Ed

Charles Gramlich said...

Very nice. Amazing to get such detail in such short stanzas. I love poems about mist and fog.