Literary: Book Review
Katharine Coles' Flight
Katharine Coles’ writing style is pared-down and precise. The former Utah Poet Laureate (2006-2012) often uses punctuation in order to minimize verbiage, and favors “erasures” to create new poems by eliminating words from an existing text. The effect can seem a bit chilly, though it set the perfect tone for her marvelous The Earth is Not Flat (Red Hen Press, 2013 ) (reviewed in 15 Bytes here), which was written during a journey to Antarctica. In Flight, her sixth collection, the poet is visiting sunnier climates, touring Italy and Turkey, and the opening poem, “Hotel Mercure,” finds her lodging in an oddly circular hotel,
Soon we are tagging along on a tour of historic art and architecture, visiting museums, photographing Hagia Sofia, admiring the floors at the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, evading the tour guide at Pompeii and, in the poem “Metaphysical,” pondering the homey details in the frescoes at Herculaneum:
They found beautiful, I find beautiful.
A wet nose. A singing frog. A glass
Round enough to let the grape breathe.
The “Glass House” that provides a title for the first half of the book is a greenhouse full of exotic plants, a “museum of the impossible” where the poet observes her companion slipping through the branches and wonders, “Should I turn around? Should I follow?”
The poems are compelling, but at first reading it seemed to me that there was something missing. Surely there was more to motivate this poetic flight than a summer vacation . . . A note in the acknowledgements indicates that, “most of the poems in this manuscript arose directly or indirectly from a project, ‘Natural Curiosities,’ in my ongoing collaboration with visual artist Maureen O’Hara Ure.”
Although Coles’ poems and Ure’s artwork are both strong enough to stand alone, they resonate even more strongly together. For the curious, some of Coles’ poetry was shown with Ure’s artwork at an exhibit, Here Be Monsters (Reviewed in 15 Bytes, October 2012 ); likewise, the poem “Swoon” previously appeared in a collaborative artists’ book, Swoon: From the Italy Sketchbooks (Hand in Glove Press, 2002), with Ure’s drawings illustrating the fanciful imagery,
Time won’t end
nor what we can picture:
A sky assembled, a pelican
Gone to sea, a dog turned demon pitched across
Limits we imagine.
Winged may fly—a lion, the dead.
It would have been nice to have a few notes to help match Coles’ poetry with Ure’s artwork, though perhaps to have them separately is a kind of intentional erasure. Ure’s website says that the two artists are collaborating on a bestiary of image and text in response to the Byzantine mosaics of Venice, Ravenna, and Istanbul, and I hope this project is still in the works.
The second half of Flight is titled “Found Objects,” named after a poem labled, “in the mood of Atget,” a 19th-century French photographer famous for taking extraordinary pictures of the everyday Paris where he lived. Coles’ tribute to Atget is a curiosity cabinet in rhyme:
A skeleton, modeled
Half-life size. A bust.
A mounted beetle.
In contrast to the exotica contained in the glass house museums, these found objects tend to be domestic and close at hand–a vase of flowers, a hike in the mountains, a house finch, a haircut — though in “The Body is no Scientist” the poet still revels in intensity over indulgent domestic coziness.
My body runs itself to euphoria and beyond, will run until its knees fray and buckle and its muscles feed on themselves.
And yet, when she’s writing about dogs and their wet noses, Coles becomes sweetly sentimental. “Cleo at Fourteen” is a sonnet for an aging running companion,
That perfectly expressive and tender “Oh, dog,” says everything about Coles’ poetic finesse. Two words in italics, and any dog lover is moved to tears.
Flight strikes me as an addition to Coles’ previous work, rather than a new direction, but still, it made me want to delve into her previous work to rediscover one of Utah’s best working poets.
Up and Upcoming: To The North
Exhibition Listings in Northern Utah
Kimball Art Center UP: Thirty-Three: Celebrating 33 Years of the Independent Spirit & Sundance Film Festival showcases 33 artists who are at the forefront of contemporary visual art. Curated by 5-time Sundance alum Morgan Spurlock with additional co-curation by Jensen Karp and Katherine Sutton of the esteemed Gallery1988 in Los Angeles, the exhibition celebrates the high caliber of diverse and sometimes wild, but always thought-provoking 33 years of Sundance Film Festival. . AND: Food for Thought: Photographs by Christopher Boffoli
featuring the Big Appetites series, where tiny people are featured in a world of big food. His clever photographic vignettes evoke an uncanny likeness to the world at large and, while eminently humorous, also inspire deeper reflections of our relationship to food.
Meyer Gallery UPCOMING: The Winter, is a show full of wonderful narratives, whimsical metaphors, and Brian Kershisnik's unique ability to tell us something new about ourselves..
AND: Jeffrey Pugh solo exhibition.
Gallery MAR UP: Jylian Gustlin's Entropy.
UPCOMING: Matt Flint, Small High Valley.
JGO Gallery UP: New works by Steve Smock. UPCOMING: Rose Umerlick and Paul Vincent Bernard.
Trove Gallery UPCOMING: New works by Kathy Taylor.
Julie Nester Gallery UP: Marjory's Worldst, photographs by Rebecca Reeve, shot on location in Southern Utah and Joshua Tree, CA; in composing the photographs she finds dramatic vistas and then places curtains at the edges of the vista which gives the sense of viewing the scenery through a window.
BDAC UP: Tyler Alexander.AND: John Erickson. AND: Jan Richins. AND: Linda Dalton Walker.
Shaw Gallery UP: Annual Student Show, featuring 152 works from 40 students.
Eccles Community Art Center UPCOMING: The Main Gallery will open a juried exhibition of photography from the 20th Statewide Photographic Competition, a juried exhibition featuring recent (within the last two years) original photographs by resident Utah photographers. AND: The Carriage House Sales Gallery will feature the work of artist Jennifer Sorenson and her students that attend the artist’s open studio at the ECAC.
Brigham City Museum of Art and History UP: Utah Quilt Guild’s Ruby Jubilee Exhibition. More than 40 chapters in the guild, which is celebrating its 40th birthday, are represented in the exhibition. The quilts in the exhibition are an optical, design phenomenon with their different shapes, textures, lines, depths, tones and space. Even though the quilts are all red and white, the reds differ in hue, saturation and brilliance.