by Joseph Stanton
The author of this impressive collection of poems, Joseph Stanton, is both a scholar and masterful practitioner of ekphrastic poetry. His commitment to the form is evident in Moving Pictures, his third collection of ekphrastic poems. In this volume, Stanton offers poems inspired by both European artists (Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, René Magritte, and others) and American artists (Winslow Homer, Thomas Cole, Edward Hopper, and others). In the section Painting the Corners, there are, among others, poems on Andy Warhol's Baseball, Lisa Dinhofer’s Spring Street Hardball, and the classic photo of Jackie Robinson stealing home. In the final section, Screens in the Dark, Stanton's poems are about movies, including Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Groundhog Day. Like his previous work, this volume shows Stanton's exquisite sense of perception and insight as he indulges readers with new ways of seeing art.
ISBN: 978-1-947067-85-1 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Joseph Stanton’s previous books of poems are Things Seen, Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art, A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban Oahu, Cardinal Points: Poemson St. Louis Cardinals Baseball, and What the Kite Thinks: A Linked Poem (co-authored with Makoto Ōoka, Wing Tek Lum, and Jean Toyama). His other sorts of books include Looking for Edward Gorey, The Important Books: Children’s Picture Books as Art and Literature, Stan Musial: A Biography, andA Hawai‘i Anthology. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Harvard Review, New Letters, Ekphrasis, Antioch Review, Ekphrastic Review, Poetry East, Cortland Review, New York Quarterly, and many other magazines. He has collaborated on many occasions with artists, musicians, and other writers. Hehas received many awards for his work — including the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award, the Cades Award for Literature, and the EkphrasisPrize. He is Professor of Art History and American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He occasionally teaches poetry workshops, such as the “Starting with Art” workshops he has taught at Poets House and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Praise for Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art
“Imaginary Museum does more than conjure pre-existing works of art. Through the alchemy of language it offers another view the complexity of another mind deepening our gaze: the simultaneous apprehension of landscapes internal and external merging in shimmering form."
—Cathy Song, author of School Figures
“Countless poets have felt called upon to write poems to and about their favorite painting. But I know of no other volume that has undertaken as ambitious a course as Joseph Stanton’s Imaginary Museum, a veritable Prado of Poems. It is most attractive in its completeness and, at the same time, in its loving concentration on individual paintings. It is a work deserving of repeated visits.”
“It is a great joy to meet so many beloved paintings by Bruegel, Hopper, Rousseau, Vermeer, Magritte, and others gathered under the same imaginary roof, and to follow a guide so sensible to aesthetic signs, so gifted for reading the canvases into poetic language. Joseph Stanton’s collection ought to be found in every art gallery shop and in every classroom where relations between word and image are lectured and discussed.”
“Joseph Stanton’s poems on art exhibit a subtle collaboration with the artist. His poems on pictures convey a narrative inspired by, not imposed upon, the visible stories. They are poems of mood and meditation, and they make you want to look at the paintings again and read these wonderful poems again and again.”
“Joseph Stanton has organized this outstanding collection . . . as if it were a museum tour. He enters the space of artifact after artifact, filling his poems with story. . . . Stanton’s skillful handling of poems about art should come as no surprise. He has studied and written extensively about the aesthetics of the ekphrastic stance — working out in theory what actually takes place when a poet writes a poem about an art piece. Imaginary Museum is not, however, a book of theory. It is a stunning collection of lyrical poetry. . . . What rises over the full range of these poems is the clear, lyric voice of a masterful ekphrastic poet.”
— Laverne and Carol Frith, editors of Ekphrasis
“In galleries of this imaginary museum, the elegant figures painted on a Greek amphora and the long forgotten souls of ladies and soldiers of Noh theatre speak out their hidden dreams in their own way. They even tell us their hopes and their revived dreams. This is a world of savage bloody scenes mingled with serene celestial griefs. Joseph Stanton portrays this other world with deep insight and delicate expression, until this other world begins to hear its own name.”
Praise for Things Seen
“Poet Joseph Stanton puts me in mind of those Chinese court literati of the Ming and Sung dynasties who were not simply scholars, but were also expected to compose and recite poetry and to be connoisseurs and philosophers of art, of all arts. What a range is in these one hundred pages, reflecting interests he has long explored in his work, from the questions of what an artist sees and how a painting or art object means, to the moonlit and irredeemably haunted landscape of Noh drama, to the atmosphere and timeless moments of the game of baseball. And what diverse artists he has accompanied into their works — Gauguin, Gorey, Zeshin — giving his attention and language to what they see and what he sees so that we might see too. He devotes one whole section to the life and vision of an old favorite, Edward Hopper. “Mostly Grimm” — poems based on well- and lesser-known tales — is well named, because Stanton’s often playful reimagining refreshes the classic themes and images. Although Stanton has often written directly about baseball, the poems of the final section, “Painting the Corners,” are particularly interesting because of their several layers and removes. Here the poet/artist notices how the artist sees as he in turn captures fleeting scenes from the art of baseball. Poet and artist have become inseparable in this collection.”
“Joseph Stanton is a poet of the visual. He willingly and often joyously assumes the ekphrastic stance, his poems moving seamlessly from an interpretation of Paul Gauguin’s powerful Vision After the Sermon, in which Jacob grapples with an angel, to a series of poems exploring the alienated world of the twentieth century painter Edward Hopper with its emerging complexities and its journey into the dichotomies of the urban and the rural, the internal and the external. Through the revelatory lens of Things Seen, Stanton observes the Noh theater tradition, analyzes the Brothers Grimm, and finalizes the collection with a series of observations about baseball as interpreted by paintings, his focus on America’s favorite pastime illustrated with an exciting series of engagements. As eclectic as his varied subject matter may be, the basic theme of these meticulously wrought poems remains the same — vision — the act of creative seeing. In the ‘Noh Variations’ poem ‘Aya no Tsuzumi,’ he writes, ‘I have spent my soul/on a glimpse of moon/through bare branches.’ This richly visual collection turns on Stanton’s masterful transliteration of image after image into the essence of its own perceived light.”
“Joseph Stanton’s tone knows his own ‘deft, ungraspable self.’ The wit in this last line from a poem about Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon, washes through Things Seen with the humility, intelligence and will to have serious fun with famous art — paintings, Grimm tales, noh plays — treated as living experience.”
“Joseph Stanton’s Things Seen is one of the great books of poetry this year that probably will not get the attention it deserves, though I hope my sheer delight might conspire otherwise. His is a major voice and these poems artifacts of an exquisite musical craftsman possessed of a generosity of vision and a special quality of attention that transforms art into being. As the poem about Paul Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon offers us, “a roseate window” in which the story “gleams for all to see; / my struggle to know, my difficult wrestling / with that indefatigable god—/ my deft, ungraspable self.” Things Seen is divided into five discrete sections—ekphrasis that gives fresh insight into that timeless practice; reinventions of fairy tales that remake the Prince Frog, The Fir Apple, Godfather Death, and leave us the Shepherd Boy to calculate the universe; Noh variations that demonstrate why that word is derived from the Japanese word for “skill”; a series on Edward Hopper that intertwines his art and life; and deft poems about paintings about baseball — and yet by the end the sections feel as triumphantly cohesive as the movements in a symphony. Things Seen offers us the poet at the height of perception and the skills of conjuration.”
Valerie Robillard, The Poetry of Joseph Stanton: Words Meet Images, September 20, 2021.
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