Being Books, 1999
by George Wallace
In this volume Joseph Stanton offers the insight
of a scholar who is able to turn theories of aesthetics toward
entertaining and informative end - at once evoking the external
subject at hand, and revealing the poet's internal world.
A poet whose work has been published in the likes
of Poetry, New York Quarterly, Harvard Review and Poetry East,
Stanton's choice of topic reveals his enduring engagement in the
art-inspired poetry genre - as well as in such areas as children's
books and more particularly American painting.
There are six distinct sections, entitled "Western
Wing," "Moving Picture Room," "Eastern Pavilion,"
Bruegel Gallery", "Exhibition of Tales," and "Hopper
Collection." Despite the inevitably hyperbolic characterization
on the back cover that the book is a "veritable Prado of
Poems" - blurb-speak, as it were - the volume does have the
heft of a tour through museum "galleries" of a museum
collection: though cast in a manner that includes passionate and
attentive observations and discoveries, on a more personal personal
level then one might have offered up by a volunteer tour guide.
Stanton is not averse to a playful look at things
- some of the motion picture poems are distinctly entertaining
- but more frequently, Stanton's aim is more dispassionate and
tangential: "The ending does not end the shrinking."
he writes in The Incredible Shrinking Man. "Because for God
there is no zero,/there is nowhere for him to go but down..."
Cleverly, there is even a turnabout of sorts...
a poem exploring how an artist might have reacte to an art poem
- WD Snodgrass' study of Matisse's The Red Studio, in which Snodgrass
envisions the artist so totally subsumed by a concentrated aesthetic
fury that he disappears into the image of his own room. Stanton
contemplates what Matisse might have replied: "Calm yourself,
my friend. I was only out/of sight, preparing the space for visitors./Since
I am not a part of what I see,/I leave myself unframed. Do you
Frequently, we do. Stanton often enough offers
a subtle collaboration with the artist in question, conveying
a narrative introspection inspired by but not "imposed upon
the art" as fellow Hawaii-based poet Tony Quagliano correctly
There are plenty of books of poems wherein poets
have tackled great art - consider the seminal work of Williams'
Pictures from Brueghel and Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts, the modern
foils against which most contemporary work of this ilk might properly
be tested (and it is appropriate that Stanton offers up a dedication
to "WHA" and "WCW" in his section on the Dutch
painter). Taken on its own, however, there is no questioning that
there is a niceness of theory at work here, painstakingly worked
out, offering to the dispassionate an opportunity to walk through
with the author thoughts about what happens when a poet writes
That is not to say that this is merely a theoretician
at work - Stanton offers a generous sharing of his own response
to paintings, movies and the like, often enough triggering readers
in a manner reminiscent of Basho at his garden: a kind of singing
/runs through our leaves.../A distant temple bell/takes its toll,/ringing
impermanence,/as if we didn't know."
Through Stanton's effort, the attentive reader
of Imaginary Museum will find moments, that they may share the
author's visioning, like Basho's garden, that are "filled