Woodman’s (Lifescapes) fourth book of poetry explores the ekphrastic, eloquently translating works of art to the page. Covering various media, from Mark Rothko paintings to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Woodman shares distinctive stories about each selected piece of art. In the poem “Vanquor,” she contemplates the out-of-body experience that can occur when getting lost in art: “Warhol slips into the Chairman’s left sleeve/ Bodies morph,/Merge as portrait, breathe in unison/ Three as one.” Meanwhile, “A Life Unravels with the Day” concocts a sober tale of an ill-fated cousin slowly being consumed by cancer—“her hair grows thin/she pulls the clumps,/as shedding begins.”
Woodman tends toward free verse, but each selection is as unique as the different works being explored. She approaches each with appreciation and compassion, such as her personification of Rothko’s Untitled, 1955, angry that it should remain nameless as that is no way to treat a friend— “ochre-brown, black mouth screaming.// The shout so loud, it blurs the lips,/ a forehead turns dark red in fury.” Woodman’s tone is often bittersweet or tinged with sadness while she illuminates the fleeting nature of some of her subjects, lamenting that not even seemingly sacred statues are immune to change in “Too Young To Understand”: “He’s condemned to storage/ Weakened in isolation/Bronze shoulders worn by touches/ Messages lost in his lungs.”
Woodman often weaves complex metaphors throughout the poems, though at times they edge into the complicated, making it a challenge to untangle them. Despite some meandering, she concocts vivid stories that invite readers into each piece and its history and impact, even bringing to life women inspired by ancient cave paintings. Though the imagery can be reductive—Chagall’s Paris through the Windows is boiled down to “swaths of vermilion, streaks of royal blue, icy white shafts”—this collection is full of memorable symbolism, thought-provoking insight, and deep engagement with the power of art.
Takeaway: A heartfelt exploration of great works of art that imparts a new layer to each storied work.
Great for fans of: Paisley Rekdal’s When It Is Over It Will Be Over, Sarah L. Thomson’s Imagine a Place.
Production grades Cover: A- Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: B+ Marketing copy: A
"Lee Woodman's poems are, in a way, paintings themselves. Their imagery is so vivid that we sometimes feel as if we are there, at the museum or gallery, taking it all in. But the joy of looking is only half of it: her love of language is a pleasure to read. Woodman chooses words with the same precision and delight that one might use to pluck the finest gemstones or candy."-Lorette C. Luzajic, author, Pretty Time Machine; editor, The Ekphrastic Review"Lee Woodman brings a poet's mind and an artist's eye to this superb collection of ekphrastic poetry. Each poem dazzles with its expert wordplay, injecting new life into a static visual image and expanding the original painting beyond its original frame. Woodman is both a keen observer and expert translator of the visual into the verbal. Artscapes is truly a book to treasure on repeated readings." -Donna Baier Stein, founder and publisher, Tiferet Journal
A wide-ranging volume of poetry celebrates the arts.
Woodman, winner of the 2020 William Meredith Award in Poetry, immerses readers in the arts in this fourth installment of her Scapes series. Drawing inspiration from a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, and music, the ekphrastic poems are steeped in vivid imagery and inventive wordplay. In the opening piece, “Mark Rothko, I Challenge Your Claim,” the author contemplates Rothko’s 1955 painting Untitled: “I ask you, ‘Why “Untitled”?’ / Would you not name a friend or / a child born, 1955? Here’s what I see: / ochre-brown, black mouth screaming.” Chelsea Welsh’s photograph Caught in the Days Unravelingis the inspiration for “A Life Unravels With the Day,” a haunting meditation on life and death viewed through the lens of a woman battling cancer: “A barren life / her scalp will know, / when all is lost, / the cancer slow.” Woodman’s poems are written in a free verse style, which allows experimentation with form and content. In “Story Tower,” inspired by Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, each stanza is separated by a single line that, when read together, forms a poem within a poem. In the whimsical “The Underside of Color,” inspired by Marc Chagall’s 1913 painting Paris Through the Window, the artist invites the author to his home because “he knows I love this painting.” The artistry of music is the focus of “Stand Under a Willow” and “A Kind of Gospel.” Inspired by Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition,” Woodman offers thoughtful life lessons in “Stand Under a Willow”: “Some have sipped the nectar / To make a healing brew / Learn from their traditions / Change your point of view.” The concluding poem, “A Kind of Gospel,” is a stirring, soulful contemplation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and how the song continues to inspire artists and listeners alike: “And now in our time of plague / more and more faces in sequestered places / come on line one by one, pleading / Hallelujah.”
A richly textured collection that invites readers into the wonderful world of culture.