There Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk: A GUSTONBOOK by Patrick James Dunagan
(The Post-Apollo Press, Sausalito, CA, 2011)
Yes, I've met plenty of those people who think that painters shouldn't talk. Usually quite irritating to Moi as it's as if a painting appears out of nowhere, or without at all reflecting the artist's concerns.
One can understand this attitude, I suppose, if a particular painter is tedious, boring, etc. in conversation. But that's something one can’t say about the brilliant artist Philip Guston. As Bill Berkson, notes on his blurb for Patrick James Dunagan's There Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk: A GUSTON BOOK:
Aside from his prodigious genius as a painter, Philip Guston was an adept reader of modern poetry and prose, philosophy and art history; an ardent conversationalist and a sharp writer on his own and others' works. His multifarious Romance of Doubt was an ongoing and fructifying virtuoso performance of irony and dialectic conscience and devilish enjoyment, sublimity and near-sublime despair.
Thus, did Guston inspire Dunagan to create this (from the publisher's press release) "GUSTONBOOK...[,] a workman's notebook of sorts sketched out in response to years spent contemplating the work and life of painter Philip Guston in relation to the ongoing world, i.e. exhibitions, books on/about Guston, other books/art works amid daily walks, drinks, and talks. More explorations than explanations, the entries contained situate the eye of memory as witness to the immediate surrounds of now: day to day, hour by hour..."
I've always found Guston's writings worth reading. But what I relish about Dunagan's collection is how its poems transcend ekphrasis to become, if you will, Dunagan's voice. Sure, with the book's title, one can't help but think of Guston when one reads
A hand moves
eye starts the
--and, by the way, the line-breaks are brilliant here in the 2nd and third lines to facilitate the push of energy (it would have been slacker had the lines broken as "eye starts / the words go").
But there also are lines like
whose sensuous ending locate the poem into direct engagement with the world/reader through the often-reliable means of eros. From "Alphabets" to "Thighs", this poem goes quite a distance for merely seven words.
Such engagement with environment—or this attention to one’s Now—also offers an appealing scaffolding to the poet's words:
Fact is you don't choose
between the door
and that first step out
into the street
welcoming every day
just like yesterday
The poet's personality—the author's existence—is not evaded, e.g. the poet's love for books:
Opening to a page
is like fucking
And it's all good—
Out of nothing
paths nobody walks
'you get there
you are somewhere
to get there
is something else
Contemplation, contemplation, contemplation. With Guston. Through Guston. Beyond Guston. How commendable that it never rests inward—contemplation continues forward to what is outside of the poet:
Solitude in busy night
glancing lights a look
hands over thigh his
her rubs itself
driving around in search
of the next perhaps
occasion of knowing others
The book is deftly designed—kudos to designer Simone Fattal—with the words placed on pages surrounded by generous white spaces. Those spaces fit the poet's clear desire for engaged readings. It's a desired engagement based on the readers' openness to a multiplicity of possible evocations. This, too, means that this gift of a book will reward repeated readings of its poems: if one is open, one's reward can be infinite.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects as she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed by Zvi A. Sesling in Boston Area Poetry Scene; by Michael Leong in Big Other; by Alan Baker in Litter; and by rob mclennan. Stephen Hong Sohn also reviews SILK EGG along with two other books, NOTA BENE EISWEIN and FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 at Asian American Lit Fans.