In a way, Every Possible Blue, picked up as part of this year’s AWP stack with its eye-catching composite of blue art, porcelain and tile cover, is a perfect collection of poems for me, with its allusions to art and New York City life. As a New York poet married to a painter, I was particularly interested in what Thorburn had to say and how he would say it. If some of this is ekphrastic poetry, it’s ekphrastic poetry on LSD, and as such, its ability to be interesting is ramped up.
Some of the collection is just plain funny, as in his satirical treatment of the use of the word “like” in quotidian conversation in “And Nadine was Like”: a flea that hops from dog to dog. And Wendi / was like, ‘Cherubic’ is just a nicer way to say ‘fat.’ And not all of the poems are set in New York; as Thorburn points out in “The Red Studio,” he is at a table where ‘pain’s not pain, / it’s only bread.
The author is skillful with words in this second book, as in his playful lines, Between the Age of Enlightenment and the age / of thirty, I lost my way. (“Now is Always a Good Time”). He reminds us there’s a hell in each ‘hello’ (“Kitty Nibbled the Ficus, Granny’s got her Rain Bonnet on”—one could be entertained just reading the titles in this series). The sound of the poems is masterfully attended to as well, as in neat as a pleat / in my new blue suit (“Men Swear”).
Part of the well-crafted nature of these poems is the attention to visual detail; color, yes, many blues, but more than color. He’s the square silver camera / that takes all this in. (“Hokkaido Photo”) And despite the blues in the poems (the title a reference to Bonnard and the last few words of his poem about Bonnard, “Still Life,” these are not “the blues,” but rather a music considerably more up-tempo. There is a jazzy resonance in this collection that makes the reader feel she is in a different time period when it was possible to borrow Max Beckmann’s tuxedo. And not all poets could impertinently ask, Where / did your nose ring go, and the years?” (“What Happens when I Try to Talk about What Happens”, a title which wordplays, I presume, on the Raymond Carver title).
In this longer excerpt from “Self-Portrait in Secondhand Tuxedo,” the poem in which he’s in Beckmann’s shiny at the elbows outfit in one of Beckmann’s figurative pieces, though Beckmann would have argued against the label, ironically a self-portrait (so typically Beckmann), he pays multiple homage to Beckmann, stuck at the club because, he concludes, there’s never a fire, / no, never a fire escape when you need one:
And here’s young Günter slouched at the bar, cheek
to cheek, sawing logs. And Magda with her teeth
out and Uncle Otto with a hiccup, they clink
drinks. Now he’s breathing a sweet
something in someone’s ear (only her ear
makes it into the picture) and there’s
hardly room for me to pull up a stool
in this last corner I’m shading in: my antsy hands,
my waistcoat pooching out over my waist.
Beckmann reappears in “Stanzas in January,” drowsing over a cloudy beer. Some poems are easily sly, as in “Le Déjuener sul l’Herbe,” where Thorburn muses:
…But no one’s
stopped to worry about poison
ivy, deer ticks, grass-stained
pants or elbows, and surprised
as I am to see them, I see no one here
seems surprised to see me.
Anyone can / can-can. (“Triple Self-Portrait”). Maybe, but not anyone can create poetry like this. “Triple Self-Portrait” breaks its three parts up in interesting ways, in the middle of thoughts: To join them you must be lucky / and dead. And: Soon it will be winter, time / for Florida. The device renders otherwise mundane thoughts intriguing.
Thorburn writes, Only the ATM gives us / exactly what we want.” (“Men Swear”) But this collection did give me much of what I want as a reader of poetry—a pleasurable and stimulating interlude and a new way to think about the possibilities for poems about art.
About the reviewer:
Susana H. Case’s Slapering Hol Press chapbook, The Scottish Café, was published in a dual-language version, Kawiarnia Szkocka, by Poland’s Opole University Press. She authored the books, Salem In Séance(WordTech Editions) and Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips(Anaphora Literary Press). 4 Rms w Vu is forthcoming from Mayapple Press.