Susan Moorhead writes stories and poems from New York. Her poetry collections are The Night Ghost and Carry Darkness, Carry Light. A librarian by trade, she is happy to be always surrounded by books.
Book Review Poetry En Plein Air by Marianne Szylk
A collection of poetry reads like a journey, the poet's journey, of course, but also our own as we travel with them, responding to their work. Poetry En Plein Air is a collection of previous work and new poems by Marianne Szlyk. In the opening poem, "The Poet of Spotsylvania", the poet laments "I want tostay home where my yard grows all the words, images, and rhymes I need for mypoems. Nevertheless, I get in my car and drive north to work." The poet may long to stay put but these are poems of motion, traversing towns and cities on both coasts, exploring farther flung destinations and timelines - listening to a young woman sing in Khmer in 1967 in the haunting poem, "Listening to Electric Cambodia", flying into Poland in "Flying into Warsaw in Another Life", "of peoplewho look like me but swish and swallow vinegary consonants that burn going down an American's throat." A cruise ship "sneaks between the stony gray beachand the icebergs" as the poet notes "this is not the Antarctica she imagined". We are inside photographs in Maine, submerged in paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rothke, in thoughtfully observant ekphrastic poetry that will have you pause the next time you are in a museum or a gallery as you try to see paintings untie their secrets and give themselves to you in the way poems such as "At The Water's Edge" do - "But the house's heart is dark and sweet with sage and lavender, with thescent of grass and lake." or in "Imagining Empathy", "They reveal only the aquarium's warm salt water, making this room a womb where one woman entrusts her observations to another." The poet is also the force behind the blog, The Song Is..., focusing on poetry responding to music, and that love for music is apparent in so many poems, in "Summer Solstice on U Street", where saxophonist Gary Bartz lifts those listening to a place where "the scent of mango dusted with chili powder and cinnamon trickles in...we taste fruits we don't know the names of." or in "The Jazz Harpist Lies Sleepless", alive to wakefulness, where the traffic outside her window sounds like the Pacific surf, like "the music she cannot write down at night" as she "hushes her crashing thoughts from the hours most women her age do not keep." This sensitivity to music continues in the attention to noises in city neighborhoods, in quiet woods, even in an abandoned house, a favorite poem in the book where "Summer rain curls up in the tub...empty hangers chatter in the bedroom closet." In "At Mile Zero on SR 26", "Turn on the radio. Stations weave in and out like drivers in city traffic." and we are tuned to her sensory details as we travel with her. Within the title of the book, the term "En Plein Air", refers to the practice of painting outdoors, where the artist is exposed to the weather, the changing light, the immediacy of the moment. Much like these poems, where the keen observant eye captures how the way birch trees in North Carolina "glint the wayodd, white threads do in a quilt of blues, browns, and greens" , and where a chicory tree stays strong "when the air is like bus exhaust and the sky is a dull ache." With alert, fresh metaphors and beautiful imagery made all the stronger for their meditative accuracy, these poems like this book wills you to notice things, the big moments and top notes, of course, but more importantly, the small necessary brush strokes that build a work and transform the canvas into art.