"Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. The last is essential."
It may seem a little odd to begin a review of poetry with a quote about artists, but the Snell sisters don't make such distinctions easy. While each is pledged to keep her own internal boundaries, so that Janet's pictures are not a direct expression of Cheryl's poems, but rather conjure the atmosphere of them, it is plain that both are consummate artists, one with well-honed quill, one with a psychogenic brush.
The 'heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors' applies equally to 'true poet', Cheryl. Her verses are a riot of color, sometimes named colors from the palette. She speaks of 'blue irony' and 'the indigo moments before bed' and 'alizarin, vermilion, cadmium, red wings beating everywhere at once'. Those who paint, or spend a lot of time in galleries, know how shades of red vibrate and redefine a whole canvas. Then there are the subtler hues, as in the gentle poem, Aura.
fracture the rainbow
in a puddle.
A spray of seven colors
prisms the sky.
It falls back to earth,
around a thin yellow foot
it mistakes for the sun.
Cheryl's mastery of language is breathtaking, her phrases turned with lancet-precision. The montaging of constrasted images taps deep into the soul and releases elusive truths with the chaste simplicity of oxygen bubbles rising to the surface of a lake. You can feel at one with the unfurling torsion of spring, its sinews newly braced, in Poem With Spring Fever, opening you up to growing possibilities beneath a benevolent sky.
The perspectives range from under-your-nose through middle distance to wide blue yonder, with close-up shots that refuse to freeze and leave you on the crest of longing. A broken spider's web is 'a ruination of silk geometries' while 'In the stunned hush of its own snapped strands, the spider writhes and rolls in a ransom of insects.' Hope describes 'how the glazed sky hurled through will feathers will sometimes part like water for one bird.'
And who, in love, has never been poised on this precipice described in Closer?
vibrate like colours on a map.
My senses are a balcony
overhanging the sea's dark watch,
its constant ticking. I wait,
a flicker of light upon the spine,
from my high place.
The rooms sway, and I know you
are near, the train pulling
into the station,
down the escalator,
eyes on the door,
its hinged footing,
your hand opening the cab's yellow
into the rush-hour surge.
This is not poetry merely to beguile the imagination; it is experience by vital proxy, full of pulse and texture and radiance.
Memento Mori is a tour de force. I cannot praise it enough and feel privileged to have had the chance to review such a gem. The book is well-produced and does credit to poet and painter on every level. Janet Snell's expressionist art - vaguely reminiscent of Edvard Munch but intensely unique - broods over these pieces, depicting shape and shadow from the hazy layers of the subconscious. These presences shifting through space are the masks we tow our troubled worlds behind.
If the title suggests that Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality has been turned on its head, then it would certainly be misleading. This book is life-affirming to a degree and proves the paradox that there is still life beyond the barbed reminders of human transience.
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*Title from Cheryl's poem, Indian Summer