--Philostratus the Younger, Imagines
These sullen diagrams,
frequently scrubbed, tell all we know
of passion that still trims
the walls of Altamira and Lascaux.
"Michael L. Johnson is chair of the Department of English at the University of Kansas. He has published poems and translations widely and five books of poems.
"One of the great pleasures that we derive from the arts, particularly the visual arts, is to discuss our reactions to them with an intelligent and agreeable friend. This is exactly what Michael L. Johnson's volume of poems provides for us. Reading it is much like walking leisurely through a museum, a super museum in fact because it contains cave paintings, architecture, Eastern, European, and American masterworks, both familiar and obscure, as well as a smattering of the other arts like literature and music, artists, and those who promoted and collected art.
"What we have here is nothing at all like those terrible rental cassettes that you lug around an art gallery that tell you in certain terms what you are supposed to see. These poems are filled with comments and observations on the art work or its creator, or with reactions after one has experienced a work of art. For example we may find a new insight to the much reprinted 'Nighthawks' by Edward Hopper, the painting of the man and woman, lit with neon, at a lunch counter in the dead of night, deep in a serious conversation. Johnson offers us this:
"The poems are not all serious and grim. For example, the first line of a poem on Sergeant's, Madame X comments, 'So this is what the scandal was about!' and continues:
"He is kinder to Peggy Guggenheim who collected artists and paintings in a 'palazzo' in Venice where 'For decades she collected it,/ laid the men who did it/ and shocked the bourgeoisie--/ till all that craziness became a heritage.' Finally, old, alone, forgotten, she will have her gondolier 'pole her on another shopping trip/ from canal to canal to canal.' Johnson does not tell us, figures I suppose that we should know, that her Venetian 'palazzo' is now a museum filled with one of the finest collections of modern painting in Italy, primarily mementoes from her lovers.
"Johnson's book is rich and bright. It will make you, as Carson McCuller's said, 'pinch up your salt with a difference.' It would be a pity not to experience it."
"In this book of ecphrases or poetic accounts of works of art, poet and professor Michael L. Johnson with wit and sensitivity and in ways amusing and poetic, dares to blur stalled graffiti with homologies at Altamira and Lascaux, confronts frankly the mythic moon of a centaur-mounted maid, produces before our eyes out of an ancient stone theater a contemporary Aphrodite anadyomene in shell-pink twilight, and reminds us, under Hokusai's great wave at Kanagawa, that there are other ways to see Fuji. Other ways to see."
--J. Theodore Johnson, Jr
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