Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Honor Moore: RED SHOES

When encountering Honor Moore’s poetry, readers may find it difficult to escape the fact that a family legacy in the visual arts exists. As Moore chronicled in the highly praised 1996 biography (The White Blackbird, Viking/Penguin) of her grandmother, American painter Margarett Sargent (the fourth cousin to John Singer Sargent), a couple of her ancestors have exhibited a talented history of image creation. Consequently, coming upon so much vivid language throughout Honor Moore’s poems in Red Shoes resembling a painter’s palette with its rich mix of tints, one sometimes only wonders how wide the range of colors may be that she will achieve. For example, in “Homage,” a brief early piece in the collection, the speaker refers to the “purple” and “orange” clothes she’d worn one evening (on a day “the sky was so blue . . . / You could cut it”), as well as the “white” of a bedside lampshade and of her “white” nightgown which “shimmers under the purple lamp.” Additional variations of these colors are mentioned, and the imagery includes implied color or texture in a “mahogany” table with drawers that have “crystal knobs.” The poem concludes: “The lamp is glass, its finial brass. / I’ve kept it a long time.”

Clearly, Moore’s approach to depicting a scene seems similar to the manner in which a portrait artist or still-life painter might arrange and catalog objects within a field of vision, those props that fill up the canvas until aspects of an atmosphere abound to such an extent as to evoke emotion or allude to a subject’s mood. In “Summer” the poet shows readers a setting almost solely through a pictorial inventory illustrating an emotional state: “In her garden birds bewail the singe / of absence. It was almost five, / the brick wall greened by a veil / of moss, artifact of city heat.” Even seemingly ordinary objects become essential elements: “Fire escapes / zigzag brick, balconies barred / with spiraled iron.” The poem closes with a subtle image indicating a passage of time and a tone that suggests some condition of deficiency or wanting: “Make a note: / Beneath the windows, water / stained the brick. Assume years of / air dulled the color almost white.”

In the first of three sections in Red Shoes, Moore presents short pieces elegantly executed. “January Light” contains luminous imagery, written in eleven lyrical lines filled with alliteration and internal rhymes, reminiscent of a moment frozen in a carefully drawn sketch: “slipping, you dip / Even fall as daylight widens and I / Saunter through dusks that lean, / Lurch, break, hallucinating sunshine.” At times, Moore also surprises the reader with imaginative metaphors or similes that inch toward surrealistic depictions, as occurs in “Hotel Brindise”: “The glass door was spinning panes / like an open book.” In fact, by the end of this poem the female speaker becomes transformed into a mermaid with a colorful description: “His hand fell to the glacier / of my thigh and held on. / My gold tail swam dark green water, // the ocean smelled of gardenia.”

Although a danger in this initial part of the collection arises when a work seems so spare as to appear slight and inconsequential, as in the slim eight-line “Doorway,” most of Moore’s brief lyric pieces are magical and affecting, evincing a sophisticated and sensual nature, which many ought to feel appealing, often shifting between real scenes and the “strange landscape” of dreams. As the first lines of “The Robbery” blatantly state: “The sky turned purple, bright purple / so I wasn’t sure if it was real / or part of my dream.” Whenever this slip into a dream-like vision happens, Moore’s poetry resembles impressionist paintings. Her poems captivate readers with inspired subjective rendering of evolving events or glimpses at the transitory effects created by light and color.

A curiously ambitious but less successful second section contains three lengthier pieces written mostly in prose-like language (“Exactly Perpendicular” and “Gnostic”) or long lines that stretch the width of the page (“Wallace Stevens”). These three works, apparently narrating disquieting dreams, involve engaging subject matter, including the deaths of her parents, and show occasional retreats into lyrical and luring passages, such as in this excerpt from “Gnostic”: “Your hand will slide from my skin like silk falling from a polished table.” Nevertheless, the transition from poetic diction comes across as more of a distraction with lax language lacking the intensity and impact of Moore’s more compact poems. Even in the dream during which Stevens appears, “seducer” to the speaker, to discuss “the limits of image,” the poem seems to overreach. Its lines give the impression of extending in a nearly self-conscious attempt at imitation that draws attention away from a number of otherwise brightly hued items—“a flag of scarlet silk,” “vermillion epaulet. Crimson of manicure. Large red man reading, / handkerchief red as clitoris peeking from his deep tweed pocket.”

However, in the final section of Red Shoes Moore appears to accomplish much of what she may have been aiming to achieve in section two by this time blending the expansiveness of subject matter with a continuing concentration on crisp and vibrant imagery or by mixing expository passages among lyrical stanzas. Indeed, the third section, which takes up half the book’s pages, is best read as an elegiac sequence dedicated to the memory of photographer Inge Morath, a close confidante of the poet and the wife of playwright Arthur Miller. Notably, Moore dedicates this section to the memory of those two friends. When the individual pieces of this section, sub-titled “Beauté” for the affectionate term by which Moore was addressed by Morath, are seen as strung to one another with a common theme, the cumulative power becomes greater.

For one who has authored a biography of a painter who was her grandmother, this poetic recollection of a photographer who served almost as an older female family member to Moore merely represents a natural next step: “she is in me begging to come back” (“Night”). The poet acknowledges in this first piece of the sequence Morath’s important personal influence: “Nothing will bring her back // and she is in me breathing.” In “Beauté” Moore embraces the term her friend had bestowed upon her: “I knew somehow when she said that word, she was / making new life for me. When she said ‘Beauté’ / those syllables were light and I was in that light.”

In another part of the elegiac sequence, “Alive,” Moore recalls the last conversation between the two, and how she read Emily Dickinson’s poetry for the dying woman, choosing carefully the works: “Why should the living proclaim hard truths to the dying?” The poignant final lines of this poem provide a fine example of Moore’s ability to evoke emotion and stimulate thought, as she supplies a touch of closure while at the same time leaving lingering images reflecting the cycles of life: “evening was darkening the gray // church walls as in the silence we watched pigeons slowly wheel / in winter sky. I put my coat on, touched her arm, leaned to kiss her, // the distant shouts of children leaving school across the street.”

However, equally effective and equally valuable, Moore offers readers an opportunity to know her friend’s life and livelihood. In “Portrait” the poet discloses those moments when she sat for a photograph by Morath: “The portrait is black and white, the settee / blue and orange, behind me a corner of my grandmother’s // self portrait.” Significantly, not only does Morath include the link to Moore’s past with the grandmother’s form in the photograph, but also the poem advances a portrait of Morath, seen at her work: “I watched her, long fingers moving // in failing light, framing the air with stretched hands.” Likewise, this image’s language echoes in a later piece, “Gloves”: “One long-fingered hand strokes / the other chemo-scoured wrist // as if pulling on an evening glove.”

The first poem in this book, “Tango,” begins with a provocative image: “A man crosses a street. / The red glove // Pulls him toward her.” In the final lines of the collection’s closing and title poem, “Red Shoes,” the poet ends with a memorable moment: “she puts her arms around you // she is wearing red shoes.” Throughout the many pages in between, with words and phrases as brilliant or textured as thick brush strokes layering paint across a canvas, Honor Moore often offers portraits of those once closest to her—parents, lovers, friends—and in doing so she also delivers an impressionistic self-portrait consisting of colorful memories and surrealistic dreams, frequently fragmented, sometimes emphasizing absence or loss and an accompanying emotional stress, but almost always tinged with some manifestation of love and, as she writes in “Gnostic,” invariably using “imagination, unceasingly seeking understanding of what is concealed.”

Moore, Honor. Red Shoes. W.W. Norton, 2005.


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