Tuesday, May 22, 2007



Falling Into Velázquez by Mary Kaiser
(Slapering Hol Press, Sleepy Hollow, NY, 2006)

A Profound Book to Read and Uncover

The pleasure of a chapbook begins with the poems. Individually, each one finely wrought—a precious object to behold. The pleasure extends when as a group the individual poems gather greater meaning and resonance as a collected whole. The poems of Falling Into Velázquez do both of these things.

Mary Kaiser often finds her inspiration in art, as the title of the chapbook suggests. Her connection to the world of art is deeper than the title. Kaiser seeks the stories behind the art. Writing about Diane Arbus in “Giant: The Contact Sheet,” she imagines how Arbus created the moments her camera captured. These lines beginning with the words of Arbus’ subject and ending with Arbus’ imaged voice conclude the poem,

Mother and Father want to stop now. I need

one more, I tell him. Turn to them. Beg.

Like a visual artist, Kaiser looks for the right moment to coax emotion and art in her poems.

The world that she inhabits is an imagined one beyond the canvasses and the images that inspire her. In the poem, “Monet/Corset Shop,” Kaiser imagines the place where Monet worked. She evokes it deftly as in these lines,

Sibilant whispers,
                sweep and pool of heavy skirts abandoned:
                               soft litany of the nine types:
    short-stout, fine-boned, full good figure—
                           mother, virgin-martyr, dancing Salome—
God, light, women—
          all invisible uncaged.

Here Kaiser shows us the world of artists through her art: fine language, paced perfectly and contracting and extending to dance at her cues.

Kaiser’s admiration for artifice comes not only from a visual world. She understands the artifice of aural language as well. In “Joan Mitchell Painting,” Kaiser enters the world of the artist with the ear of a poet. She writes,
                                              Her first stroke
is the signature. The rest, the accompanying bombast, the swarm of shadow

sun-glinting-off-leaves, black-slapped limbs—the necessary mirror. Her thick strokes
read as wings or petals, float in a blur of summer, the swarm of shadow

crossing trails like prairie fenceposts.

The sibilance utilized in these lines provide an oral intensity that is never excessive as a result of its careful interplay with visual images and imagistic language.

As a result of the formal control of her craft, Kaiser is able to work with the most haunting and disturbing of images as well. In the poem, “Organized Labor,” Kaiser begins writing about Diego Rivera and his iconic murals about Detroit and the automobile industry. She turns in the sonnet’s sestet, however, from Diego to Frida. Kaiser writes,

In Henry Ford Hospital, little Diego
Slips dead from Frida’s ruined pelvis.
She will keep him in a bottle in Mexico City
With two other babies she didn’t have.
She squits at a solar eclipse, decides to paint
On tin. She tilts her strapped frame to the light.

Kaiser doesn’t turn from the grotesque, she embraces it and holds it up to the light.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and reading these poems in earlier forms. This may be one reason I find them so delightful as a whole. It may also be that Slapering Hol Press has produced a gorgeous and finely-crafted book as a container for Mary’s work. In either case, I commend this book to you. The poems—each one and the collected whole—and the creation of the book by Slapering Hol makes Falling Into Velázquez an object to read and treasure.


Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. Her first book, Homesteading: Essays on Life, Death, Sex and Liberation, is forthcoming from The Q Press. Read more about her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.


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