Saturday, March 23, 2013

Charles Burchfield's Visions in Nature

Charles Burchfield, Crows in March, 1953. Lithograph,
13.25 x 9.75." Courtesy of the Keny Galleries.
The robins in my back yard this month have looked as big as rabbits, so puffed up are their feathers against the entrenched cold. I'm wearing hats in the house like a faint-hearted Cossack. I am writing on the first day of spring, but the drabness of the landscape and depressed temperatures make it hard to feel any warm, seasonal flush of hope.

It's likely that the Keny Galleries in Columbus didn't plan Charles Burchfield: An American Visionary (1893-1967) to assuage the gloom of we, the seasonally saddened, but I find the show an effective antidote to what appears out my window. Burchfield was an observer and recorder of nature extraordinaire. Throughout a long career he not only painted and drew what he saw in the meadows, yards, and woodlots of Ohio and upstate New York, but he recorded his visions of nature at the same time. The trees he paints are the trees you and I see, but with their secret spirits released. In his work, trees and flowers are no longer shy about exposing the thoughts, attitudes, and voices that most of us couldn't know until his patient insight captured them accurately.

The lithograph of Crows in March so captures what Robert Frost called the "inner and outer weather" of this disconcerting, late-blooming season. One identifiable crow flies across the center of the picture, signaling to us that the undulating shapes in the sky above it are crows also. The latter birds are so abstract in shape though, that they seem to give down-facing wings—of birds or bats?—to the dead tree trunks in the swamp, and upward rising ones to the high branches of the living pines. The clouds themselves, and the light that falls between them onto the earth share the wave motion and the undulating pattern of light and dark. Which way is the season going? Will the light ever supplant the dark in this evenly balanced pattern? Will up prevail against down?
Summer Benediction, detail.

In Summer Benediction from the same year, Burchfield's "crow shapes" appear again as part of his visual vocabulary of lull. All the waves end with downward turns, as if they hang peacefully, their motion suspended. Combined with the tiny dots at the horizon line, the weight of the oak leaves and the clouds make one almost hear the drone of insects in a medium of steady heat. 

Charles Burchfield, Summer Benediction, 1953. 12 x 9."
Lithograph. Courtesy of the Keny Gallery.
The flowers in the foreground and mid-ground, however, virtually twinkle, as if their centers were eyes. Though some tall leaves turn down, its from the height of erect, strong stems. The center of the space is framed then but by elements that lead the eye down from the top and up from beneath, to a lovely, open and dreamy space; to a distant hill of possibilities. Compare this to March in the swamp, where the middle is filled with trunks fallen at angles, blocking the way to the tiny spot of light far distant. March seems inescapable; summer is dreams of infinity, with flowers strewn in the path taking you there.

Burchfield's drawings and prints are fewer and less well-known than his watercolors, many painted on a scale allowing for great detail and complex composition. His 1948 Early Spring is such a work, apparently one of many scenes that the artist painted on his own property; he was a connoisseur and expert of the familiar; an intimate of everyday landscape. 

Here the artist is working in a different mode, primarily observational. The sense of a raw, rainy early spring day—is it raining or snowing or both?—makes me shiver. Will the daffodils stand up again tomorrow, or lie in puddles in the mud? The many values of grey in the sky and in the landscape are so well presented: He reminds us that the transitional spring world really is grey. What color there is comes as relief to the reality of winter's habitual, steely neutrality, as if color were indeed merely painted on.

Charles Burchfield, Early Spring—May, 1948. 29 x 40." Watercolor with gouache and charcoal on paper.
Courtesy of the Keny Gallery.
Still, even though this scene is less overtly abstract and formal than the lithographs above, Burchfield still organizes the view with a rhythm and energy native to his eye. The scalloping rows of dark and light clouds is emphasized by the charcoal line drawn over it. These shapes are echoed by the arches of the fence, repeated on a larger scale by the trellised forsythias, the graceful branches of the blossoming trees, and the wind-swept twigs of green leaves. The black fence posts, the tree trunks, the four-square tower of the church all anchor both the world against the blustery weather. We are protected on the other side of a window that affords us this view made a little indistinct, perhaps by the moisture.

Charles Burchfield, Evening Sunlight, Winter, 1917.
Watercolor on paper. 19.5 c 13.5."
Courtesy of the Keny Galleries.
Another watercolor in which Burchfield provides this pleasure of something carefully observed yet aesthetically well-managed is Evening Sunlight, Winter from the days of his early successes in the  'teens. The composition is unusual for him—the single major event, the tree, standing squarely in the middle of the frame—but what surrounds it seems more familiar. The branches in the picture's upper half form their own abstract composition of curved lines and the spaces, cutting across the neutral background colors. The branches trace courses we've seen in the later works, above—the crow wings/bat wings, scallops that can face up or down. The tree and its neighbors shoot expressive lines across each other in a complex network in which the red chimneys hand like exotic fruit. The small town neighborhood as swamp or jungle.
Evening Sunlight, Winter. Detail.

Evening Sunlight, Winter. Detail 2.
The lower part of Evening Sunlight too, while representing shadows in snow, is nevertheless painted in a manner that reminds me of the way he handles distance in the two lithographs above. The washy blue and brown here do the job of grey and white there, and are deployed in the same way as lines of gently sloping, receding  distance. The bands are straighter here, but there are still up-sweeps, the line of waves, and the eventual breakthrough to white, here complicated with with pale sepia dots. The snow doesn't just lie there: For all the stillness of the overall scene, every element within is charged with potential drama and motion.

What Nature is; how and why humans interpret Nature are questions every landscape or plein air artist has to contend with. Each inevitably will put his or her own stamp on Nature in recording it. 

Artists can't represent nature as, "Just the facts, m'am," because it cannot be represented in its plenitude without editing. Nature has no focal point. Art does. It's all about edited compositions made and manipulated around focal points. When nature frightens us, it's because we can't focus or arrange it; our instinct is to manipulate it whenever we can; to find or impose pattern and design from the outset. 

Charles Burchfield, September Afterglow, 1949. Watercolor. 37.25 x 11.125."
The Canton Museum of Art, Gift of Ralph L. Wilson. Courtesy of the Keny Galleries.
Every individual is instinctively aware that humans are tiny compared to nature. We create ways to feel less vulnerable to the mighty accidents of geology, weather, or any of the other great non-rational forces by treating nature with romantic awe, by tackling it to show our notional strength, our by declaring ourselves Nature's friend.

So nature or landscape artists have to bring a taming point of view to their work. Frequently this was a romantic one in American art of the 19th and early twentieth centuries.  Nature is good; it reflects simplicity, innocence, morality—fair weather. Storms suggest judgments.

Burchfield, however, likes the grey areas. He is as interested in the transitional seasons as he is in seasonal peaks. He likes to study light dispersed across landscape in different tempers of weather more than he wants to give us an a straight-up view of a sunny or snowy day. Most important of all, I think, is that he doesn't really project a generalized vision of Nature at all. He represents his own, uniquely personal relationship to it. His pictures show how nature affects him, rather than offering an appeasing point of view.

In September Afterglow, for instance, the sunflower drops its petals. From the limpness of the flower's leaves, we guess that the first frost may have already visited. Is the meadow already frosted over, silver-grey? Or is the color what comes with descending light? Like Early Spring—May, above, the painting is essentially cool blue-grey, with highlights of yellow, green, and coral. Still, there's enough information to make us believe in the details: It's the end of a season, what has bloomed is dying back; both time of day and of year are bleeding the color away; forms dangle and droop.

The limp black forms contrast, though, with the high arch of the flower's stem and the glow over the dwellings. There's a spiritual feeling that makes the yellow petals feel like the sprinkling of holy water. It even makes me feel that the scene could be used as a Christmas card, with that single star twinkling in the sky.

Charles Burchfield, Sultry Moon, weed detail. 1959. 
My sense in this, as in much of Burchfield's work, is not that he has imbued Nature with a romantic vision or any attitude at all, but rather that Burchfield has recorded the effect that Nature has had on him and his vision. What he has put on the paper is indeed reality as he perceives and knows it, not simply as he wishes to conceive of it. This is close to ecstatic vision—witness its luminosity, the softness of the lines, the slight blurring, the repetition of shape, the combination of menace (the forms in the upper right, the strength of black forms) and magic (the unspecified lightness in the field; the sunset color). It is a picture of a scene known not merely to the eyes, but throughout the sensorium.

In Burchfield's 1959 watercolor, Sultry Moon, foreground weeds and a middle-ground tree shimmer under an orange moon in a grey-blue sky. I have only two details here, but each reflects further developments in the artist's way of recording nature's effect on him rather than presenting the outer world through a taming point of view. 

The close up of a weed in full-bloom is virtually figurative, and being such, would seem to wear sacred or regal head gear and drapery. It is very fancy, and its leaves lift from its sides gesturally. Burchfield has repeated most of his black lines with grey ones, giving the effect not so much of shadows but that the figure is trembling. Between the costuming and the implied motion, this denizen of the weed-lot has become something significant, alive, and magically communicating with us.

Charles Burchfield, Sultry Moon, tree detail, 1959.
Series of window reflections across center.
The tree that catches the moon glow is similarly both radiant and quivering, as if the physical energy of light were transferred to kinetic form once the branches received it. Broken and stuttering lines create the branches and foliage that shudder, as it seems, in response to the moon's quiet energy. 

Once more, the painting's palette is basically neutral—grey and brown—with the heat of the orange sun making itself felt by simple contrast. The orange along the top of the tree reads as flame, especially with the kind of mark Burchfield has chosen. As with the weed, the shadowy reduplication of mark, and the disconnected leaves/bark falling away at the bottom lend the sense of subtle but powerful movement, reinforced by the fact that the moon is not emanating rays aimed at the Earth. It's power slides off obliquely, in concentric arcs that are mirrored by the staccato thread of orange and green along the horizon line. 

In the sultry night there is inner tension, vibration, passion. The artist did not put it there. Nature it to him. The painting shows what Burchfield saw and what he wants to reveal. He sees nature and he speaks in voices, responding beyond the usual capacity of paint. Nature isn't something to see, but to experience to the very depths of mind and body, and to record in as many dimensions as possible.

Were I to have Burchfield's painting of the scene out my window—the back yard with its straw-blonde grass and shivering robins—I would see those patches of green I overlook everyday, and and the maroon among the leaves of the vine that struggles to regenerate. I would understand that the position of the grass's translucent blades has meaning; that they bend not because they are frozen, but in their will to move. Burchfield's painting would be instantly recognizable as my yard. Yet I'd know him as the medium by which my plot's  nature can be known, and as the sage who can teach me how to listen to the tree's bark as well as the dog's; to feel not only the heat of the flame, but creeping spring's as well.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Four (Outstanding) Ways of Looking" at the Lindsay Gallery

Laura Bidwa, Tromage, 2012, detail. Acrylic and oil on panel, 
17 x 22."
Linda Gall curated the beautiful painting show, Four Ways of Looking, installed at the Lindsay Gallery in Columbus until the end of March. I've read elsewhere the suggestion that there is an environmental topic that organizes the show. It's a stretch to see that, and why try? The show is so well organized aesthetically that Gall's talents shine through as much on the curatorial level as through her witty painting.

Gall has chosen only two works by each of the artists—Laura Bidwa, Sarah Fairchild, Laura Sanders, and herself. She's placed one large painting by each artist in the airy front room, and a small one in the busy back room, where work by some regular gallery artists also hangs. 

In the main room, each of the four paintings is more than strong enough to bear the exposure it gets; and all are unquestionably peers. Fairchild and Sanders create obvious drama in their work; Bidwa and Gall present with restraint. The paintings are hung for excellent visual balance and they provide an engaging variety of experiences for the viewer's imagination. Each painting stands out for its unique expression, and each is enhanced by contrast with those around it. Yet there is no sense of competition for notice; the balance is perfect. This is truly artful curating, to generate the sense that each work might lose a little once it's removed from its neighborly relationships when the show closes.
Laura Bidwa, Tromage, 2012. Acrylic and oil on panel, 17 x 22."

Laura Bidwa's Tromage fascinates me with its many floating levels, all as thin as transparencies laid atop one another on a panel of seeming worn, black linen. I found myself holding my breath in the face of the mysterious calmness, which seemed to mask something explosive. The detail above gives a better indication of how colorful is the central figure, sitting like a Buddha on the floor. But, as the detail shows, it is not really a mass, but a series of ambient layers, atop which the red line moves like a descant. The bee's flight over a flower? The blood vessels bringing life to the brain? Separation and unity, life and indifference—I could contemplate this painting and its spectrum of thought for a long, long time. 

Laura Bidwa, Wanted To, 2004/2012, colored pencil,
acrylic and oil on panel, 12 x 15."
Bidwa, Wanted To, detail
Bidwa's smaller offering, Wanted To, offers a similar pleasure, but it is even more minimal and diaphanous. Here, the single event on the streaked plane of black over white gives the impression that it is crawling or slithering into the picture plane. To me it looks like nothing sensate lest it be a body part, an organ—or even a thought—given a life of its own. Sweetbreads, a gland, for it has the fragile transparency of the fluid organic? As I do with Tromage, I react in complicated ways to this painting's beauty and to its mixed sensory signals. The horizontal brushstrokes of the background suggest speed; the lumpish form suggests the opposite and seems particularly determined, therefore, especially in its position on the "floor." I feel like the painter has put me on the fence between the wonderful and the sinister. Part of me "wants to" immerse myself in this, and part doesn't dare.

Sarah Fairchild, Lettuce and
Sarah Fairchild, Lettuce and Lambsquarters, 2012. Acrylic and flocking on paper,
36 x 52."
Sarah Fairchild's paintings could not be more different in look—they are as decadent as Bidwa's are spare—yet they, too, walk the line between surreal beauty and something more. They are like the vegetal versions of full frontal nudity. Her nominal subject "the beauty of local food – farm to table – [that] raises awareness of what we eat" isn't to my eye at all what is delivered here, though it may be the point of departure into her world of sensual magic. I'm not lingering in these to eat my peas. The beauty of her work is the way she runs natural forms through the fiery furnace of her vision—her way of seeing, which is in iridescence, flocking, and colors nature rarely shows us. Her work brings intense aestheticism into a crashing encounter with flowery sensuality in something unique and wonderful—boudoir meets psychedelic opera. 
Sarah Fairchild, Silks, 2012. Silkscreen, acrylic, and flocking on paper, 11 x 30."
I was amused by Fairchild's mixed-media Silks, which I at first considered to be named for the fabrics flowing from the torsos of dancers. Of course, its for the silk atop the ears of corn on the stalks represented here. I like the way that the image can so easily be taken either way—or no way at all, appreciated for its rhythm and light symmetry, its formal whimsy. 

Laura Fairchild, Drinking Water, 2012. Oil on wood, 5 x 6."
Lush painting takes a different direction in the hands of Laura Sanders. Her humble subject matter gets realistic treatment, but her lavish handling of oil paint creates a magic different from but no less enthralling than Fairchild's. Of the painters represented here, photographs do least justice to Sanders's work because her "live" surfaces give the impression that she has delivered paintings straight from the easel to the gallery wall, they are so wet and fresh. While her work conveys the sense of literal, eye-witness detail, she paints with broad brushes, in thick slabs. While the keenness of observation is arresting, the presence of artifice is very evidently what takes you there. 

Sanders's paintings create high drama from an everyday, backyard scene. In this, they are consonant with the other work in the show. All of these artists seemingly take nothing in particular as their focal points and make emotional mountains thereof. Everybody's doing it these days? I think that's largely true, but I like the way these four embrace the stage so unabashedly.
Laura Sanders, Consume, 2012. Oil on canvas, 21 x 34."
Linda Gall's paintings, while spare indeed, and dry as the wood panel they are painted on, are the most theatrical of all. Her protagonists are not mysterious forms or figures in dramatic lighting, but china figurines whose expressions and poses are given. They come ready-made, and their virtue is in the ease with which they can be interpreted. Gall takes advantage of stock characters by putting them on stages not decorated for their dramas. She poses them in ironical situations or in settings they were not cast for.
Linda Gall, It's Just Lust, 2013. Acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36."

Gall has painted on panel that she's left unfinished where it was unnecessary to represent something positive. In It's Just Lust, white, unshaded patterns of paint represent water that froths and splashes around the figures, who are painted in great detail—as their originals would have been in the china factories. The piles supporting an unseen pier get naturalistic treatment that contrasts in yet another way with the artificiality of the "water" and the idealized realism of the figurines. We are not simply asked to suspend our disbelief in this theater, but to wonder how to construct reality in the first place. Or, we can accept that this is life: Everyday we go about the world claiming coherence for what we make of inevitably patchwork perception. At any moment we see life simultaneously as flatly abstract, idealized, and defined by accepted scientific theory.

Linda Gall, It's Just Lust, detail.

Gall's work is, to my mind, very funny. It's Just Lust could be subtitled, Under the Boardwalk. Three other figures have their backs turned to the passionate couple, surely imagined as a swain and milkmaid from an inland, cottage scene. The shepherdess with her lamb raises one hand to a tearful eye: Has Bo-Peep lost her sheep? Or is she shocked by the scene? Or by the invitation implied in that luscious, red, wet slice of melon offered her? All this in the white surf, the sign of lust's consummation in films of more discreet times. I like the stories inherent on the stage Gall has so purposefully blocked.

Four Ways of Looking is, as I said at the top, a show of excellent painters whose works are enhanced by their interrelationships in this show. The only thing not to like, I thought at the outset, was the title. "Egads! What a dull title, lacking any predictive force," was my initial impression.

I can't say that I've come up with anything better, though. As the reader can see, here are four  distinct ways of looking, but four deeply related points of view. The eye says they are different, but a little study corrects the vision better than glasses ever can.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Poems in the Beauty Parlor: Krystal Languell's Poetry

What a title! Krystal Languell's first book of poetry is Call the Catastrophists. Its file of hard consonants reinforces the alarming-sounding authority of those mysterious experts invoked.

Whenever catastrophists are called, though, it must be for something so dire that ordinary intervention won't do. This isn't, "Call the doctor! Call security!" It's, "Call the oncologist, the hematologist, the seditionist!" "Catastrophist:" This person must have studied deeply for years, must have taken an advanced degree (or have the equivalent in life experience). It's scientific-sounding: the catastrophist would make observations leading to action informed by theory. Will the catastrophist stop calamities? Or keep a life list of disasters in clinical detail?

The abrupt imperative of Languell's title also signals possible horrors to come—perhaps things so ghastly as to make a reader hesitant to lift the book's cover: We've all heard of Pandora's box.

The table of contents for this volume promises no famines or wars, but there are scourges aplenty within—disasters of thought, insight, or control. There are failures of culture, failed promises of technology and communications; the unfailing dull baseness of people.

Under three sections—"Catastrophes," "Salvage," and "Continuum"—are poems like, "Many Lost Cause Creatures Could Form a Very Sad List;" "Post-Soviet;" "Blacker Birds;" "The Future of Bad Times;" "Excuse Me if I Break My Own Heart;" "The Blues Are Merely One More Complaint;" "He Was Stapled, He Was Sewn;" "The Sadder It Becomes;" "Unsatisfactory Progress;" and "Urban Blight."

The titles and topics of Languell's poems sound like the cuts on a CD or LP, which is my point: No one but a comedienne or a country singer could get away with these. Central to Languell's poetry is her eagerness to speak in the tongues of personae that come naturally to her. She never feels the need to leave the working class world scrutinized in this poetry for the brainy, au courant world of academic letters that from time to time intrudes in unlovely guises.

In "Montage Our Way Through Winter," Languell writes in the voice of a woman considering the black-and-white conflict usually assumed between women with intellectual interests and those without:

    I'll use my get out of jail free card
    and my good credit. A stranger
    called me a whore in the subway
    I saw a rat I got lonely I bought shoes
    and ate ice cream I drank all the coffee
    and I made more and I slept it all off.

Add steel guitar and plaintive fiddle. We know the feeling. Her plain series of unadorned statements is spot on. Two pots of coffee that she's still able to sleep off: That is down and out and nearly everyone can relate to that deep, dumb place she uses her chisel to write.

But she's got a "get out of jail free card," and in the last of three stanzas uses it:

    Would you like to be a power couple?
    I'll pick you up at the airport in you
    favorite kind of car. We'll circle things
    to buy in a big catalog...
   Come spring, we could arrive in a new town
   and between your neckties and my rhetoric,
   we'd run a successful mayoral campaign.
   You think I'm joking. Don't laugh at me.

She's moved into a fantasy of the normative American good life. Has she becomes a whore in fact to her husband's riches and wishes, driving him around and—the twist—using her academic accomplishments to support his ambitions? Now she can afford to shop for more than ice cream cones to assuage emotional pain. 

The last line returns us to the present, however, presumably to a present-time male who finds this fantasy ludicrous and does not participate in it. How could a woman with "rhetoric" have such a common dream? Certainly she's "above" it. But what if she really does take it seriously: Are the two worlds mutually exclusive? Are intellectuals rarefied past normality? Should a woman have to compartmentalize her life, assigning different values to different, isolated parts, some of which are forced into secrecy? 

"Montage Our Way Through Winter" is a country tune from the poet who also wrote "Suggestions for Longevity," in which a series of cool, selective observations are submitted to a passionless logic that creates a darkly comic program for health and sanity. Among the suggestions (the poem's opening and closing are quoted):

     You shouldn't try to feed the animals at the zoo.
     This is how people keep getting mauled—ignoring the worry impulse, imagining animals                
         are children.
     I understand; sometimes I'm at the zoo, and I am the zoo....

     Excise any wasteful habits. No more open tabs at the bar. No more cash advances.              
     Cultivate a taste for comparison shopping....

     Ignore research that proves deterioration is random. If you sneak around for drinks, you'll  
        sneak for sex too. You should control the particle that makes you mean.

     You'll want to think the end isn't your fault. Get organized. Go for a hike. Start a non-profit.

     I don't do that kind of thing, but I'm not the one who wants to live forever.

But the pose of disengagement is punctuated by hints that the poem is personal. The general "You" of the first, prescriptive line, has grown into a familiar "you" who is by the end admonished to watch sneaking around and to control mean instincts; whose grandiosity is obliquely but definitively excoriated in the last line. So, while all of us would do well to consider the poet's dry counsel ("Blame nature. No one will notice that it doesn't make any sense." Good point!), here, philosophy is personal. It's invoked as an analgesic and weapon.

Many pages of Call the Catastrophist are filled with brief prose-poems. Languell writes these in conversational language that breaks down any distinction between poetry and common parlance. The prose-poem is also a device she uses very precisely to isolate bits of life's everyday detritus, then to reveal its value. She's the ragpicker on the runway. Witness "Gift Economy," quoted in full:

     At Christmas my teacher gave me a bundle of twigs wrapped in a red bow said in
     Hungary it's used to remind children of punishment like a lump of coal in a stocking
     batted my hands a few times to demonstrate I saved the twigs in a shoebox for six years
     and when Kevin saw me open the box he said Is that memory lane? No one keeps
     memory lane in a shoebox in the trunk of their car I did and I included the jewelry I
     shoplifted from Wal-Mart although I'd never worn it.

"No one keeps memory lane in a shoebox...I did," and what's more..! The poet who sometimes prescribes, flouts conventional expectations and roles on the other hand. 

One general expectation for poetry that Languell upends is for sensual detail, simile or metaphor. There are occasional extended metaphors, as in the poem, "Lease Breaking," in which the woman in a relationship is not so much compared to a caged bird as she is represented as one. But the power in this poet's language derives from word choice, placement, and rhythm. She places us in situations with visual details, and her compression infuses us with capsules of fury, outrage, or frustration. From the prose poem, "Price Point:"

     Dia de los Muertos flavored coffee and mugs with cartoon Billy the Kids retired couples
     on road trips picking hollyhocks from our yard so what could we do but drink and eat
     and smash wine glasses with a golf club? Destruction either internal or external, but 
     something had to crumble: the jail the Kid was held in, the brother-turned-restaurant,
     our house. ...

Just the facts, m'am; but the facts are a matter of precise selection and unadorned language, a mighty team in Languell's yoke. 

So when she changes registers, she wallops us with the emotion that accompanies an unexpected event. I find particularly poignant the poem, "Save These Instructions," one of the few places she resorts to the academic language that she hints from time to time she is taking pains to avoid. "Save These Instructions" is written in two prose stanzas:

     Three men were not well and one died but not the one I thought would doesn't matter
     now another cascade suddenness literally ashes not only is it possible it's a fact if one            
     then my entire family will which is obvious...
     Extreme situational juxtaposition or incongruity followed by specific details then a short
     anecdote that brings in another voice or character....
                                                                                                              ...Surprising use of
     simile or metaphor, disregard secondary characters in favor of meaningful interiority:
     idea, image, epiphanic zinger.

Academic language obfuscates emotional truth; it attempts to quash the reality of primary instinct, which is scary enough. In the face of multiple deaths, I think my whole family will die-—obviously. As if any one of us were free of such primal, emotional thinking. And as if we wouldn't do everything to deny such "primitive," and uncontrollable workings of our minds.

What Languell exposes, then, is not only the paltriness of academic expression—expression by the book or the theory of the times (mocked, even, in "zinger")—but the importance and universality of ideas we dismiss as undignified for being illogical or uninformed by "higher thought." In her poetry, she pares away language that an academically-trained poet must find in use among her peers. If writing is ultimately about editing, Languell's a master of the craft.

It's only Languell's language that it highly edited, though, for it serves the interest of getting closer to emotions that are hard to relive or to reveal. She talks about the things no one wants to talk about, the parts of life that most of us spend our time sweeping under the carpet, carefully never examining, however deeply they scar us or define our lives. She mentions all the unresolved memories that keep us in suspense, haunted. This is the complete last stanza of "Many Lost Cause Creatures Could Form a Very Sad List," shifting between second and first person, is the poem that introduces the volume:

     when you call on the poor to make donations
     when you feel like a shelter dog
     when I hear the word culture I reach for my checkbook
     when I get my period on the way
     to ship a dead woman's things home

This one, like so many of Languell's lyrics, is to be performed a cappella. That is, accompanied by silence, and ending there on silence's unresolved chord.

Krystal Languell, Call the Catastrophists, 2011. BlazeVOX [books], Buffalo, NY.
ISBN: 978-1-60964-090-3