Bryan R. Monte – AQ38 Autumn 2023 Film Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ38 Autumn 2023 Film Review
Wim Wenders, Anselm Kiefer, (Road Movies; German with Dutch Subtitles), 93 minutes.

On 12 October 2023, I attended a special showing of Wim Wenders’s new film, Anslem Kiefer, in combination with the press preview of Anselm Kiefer’s Bilderstreit exhibition at Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, The Netherlands. The film was shown at the Haagse Filmhuis in the centre of The Hague. The official premier of the film was four days later on the 23rd, so this was something of a treat. In the film, Wenders shows Kiefer at work in his enormous atelier in his art village in the French countryside, which also includes sculpture gardens, warehouses, and exhibition areas.
      However, the film does more than that. It also recapitulates important scenes from Kiefer’s youth and his career as an artist. We follow Kiefer from schoolboy with his traditional German, knee-length trousers to his first art awards, through his different and increasing larger ateliers in Germany and France, until Wenders captures the old master himself at work on some of his most recent, large canvases—with a flamethrower and assistants at the ready with water to put out the fire before it completely consumes the canvas.
      The film begins with work not included in Museum Voorlinden’s collection: concrete-like white dresses draped over metal frames exhibited outdoors among the trees reminiscent of a fashion designer’s sketches for his/her dresses without a body to fill them. From time to time the textures of the natural surroundings, such as birch tree trunks or the edges of the artwork come to the fore due to Wenders filming of scenes in 3D. In the background the sun is low in the sky, perhaps a sunrise or sunset, but due to the undefined celestial orientation of the camera, that is not certain. Some dress frames are capped with what appear to be representations of atoms, similar to the one atop the former GDR Weltklok, in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz; others with bricks, blocks, or wire. There is the sound of breathing and next the viewer sees Kiefer’s art towers on the grounds of his estate. Then the scene changes to a greenhouse which shelters more of these white dresses representing women of antiquity with books, cubes, ladders, bricks, and a bird cage instead of heads, and shards of glass in the folds of one dress, thus introducing many of Kiefer’s recurring materials and themes.
      Next, we see Kiefer riding a bicycle in one of his enormous storage areas or ateliers. There is the sound of airplanes overhead as Kiefer passes enormous shelves with various objects he will recycle into his artwork. In particular he sees old aircraft wings and names them after Biblical angels: Uriel, Raphael, Michael, etc. In addition, Kiefer looks through drawers of old photographs for inspiration and/or material for other artwork. Lastly, he cycles past his large canvases.
      Then, Wenders mixes the past and the present in his film by showing the young Kiefer, (played by his grand-nephew, Anton Wenders), looking at a black and white diorama, then photos of boys running through the snow, and lastly, the young Kiefer actor walking through Kiefer’s art village. It is also a filmic technique and metaphor repeated throughout the film: the child being the father of the artist. Another is the interspersing of historical films and photos, such as women sorting through and recycling bricks in post-WWII Germany interspersed between scenes in the present.
      After that, Wenders adds a third element: quotes from Martin Heidegger and Paul Celan in Kiefer’s oeuvre. Celan’s Totesfuge is read, a poem about the Shoah. Next, we see Kiefer on an enormous bed with white sheets illuminated by one bare light bulb in his enormous workshop surrounded by metres-large canvases in progress. Then, we are shown Kiefer’s library of heavy lead books, and then X-rays of patients with advanced brain cancer. A voice over says that Kiefer would have liked to have met Heidegger. ‘He did meet Paul Celan in the ‘60s. Neither of the two mentioned the war.’ Another voice over is by Columbia University art critic Simon Schama. He states that Kiefer’s art ‘prods incessantly at the wound of German history.’
      Then Wenders shows Kiefer at work in his different and increasingly larger ateliers: an attic in Hornback where he draws a scene from a photo projected onto a canvas, an abandoned factory in Buchen, and a disused brick factory in Hopfingen, Germany, during his German period. In 1992, he moved to France and bought a former silk factory in Barjac, where he established his above-mentioned art village. Wenders cuts between old or recreated footage from Kiefer’s former ateliers to his present one in Barjac and connects some of them with his own narrative. For example, an actor, portraying the 30-something Kiefer, drives an orange VW bug, with some canvases attached to its roof, from his workshop in a snowy, forested landscape to a photo of another, the abandoned brick factory in Buchen ‘because he needs the space’. Here the artist or the actor states, he likes to put photos in books ‘to have them for the next 2,000 years’.
      The narrator states that this is when Kiefer made it big in the US at the MOMA, showing some of his books, sculptures, and black and white photos. Wenders also shows some of the Hitler salute photos Kiefer made of himself while wearing his father’s former WWII German army uniform as a protest against people forgetting what happened. (The Hitler salute is still illegal in Germany and punishable with up to three years in prison).
      Next, Kiefer himself in the present tosses clothes that he has made flat and heavy, from a spiral staircase in his present workshop. One item is similar to the white chemise he used in his Karfunkelfee (2009) vitrine sculpture. (See Kiefer’s Bilderstreit exhibition review in the issue for more details). Each falls to the floor with a thud. This is followed by a 3D section about Jason and the Argonauts, a bit of the story is read in a child’s voice. Then a section about Lilith in the Garden of Eden followed by a historical footage of the bombed ruins of a post-WWII city. In German, a voice over says ‘the great myth is humankind itself’ and a little later, ‘myth is the way to understand history.’
      The scene returns to an aerial view of Kiefer’s art enclave with the sound of airplanes overhead as the Der Morgenthau Plan is mentioned. Henry Morgenthau was US President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture. In 1944, during the throes of the war when Allies weren’t making much progress in Europe, Morgenthau suggested starving the Germans into pacification after the war was over. (See my review of Museum Voorlinden’s Bilderstreit exhibition for more about this artwork). Then a constructed ruin in Kiefer’s art park is shown, a shaft of sunlight revealing a subterranean, partially, sand-filled area.
      Next, a boy wearing the traditional 1950s German child’s school backpack rides up on a bicycle to a palace. He walks up the steps. Inside, he sees a drawing, which include animated portraits of philosophers speaking to themselves or each other. Then the scene cuts to Kiefer or the older Kiefer actor looking at photos from the 1950s of his family, then footage (recreated) of when Kiefer won the Jean Watters prize in 1963, which enabled him to visit the places that had inspired Vincent van Gogh. The film briefly shows pencil sketches of a man’s and a woman’s faces. It reveals, perhaps, the reason for Van Gogh’s lasting influence on Kiefer’s work, and in particular, Kiefer’s repeated use of the sunflower motif. Then, the child lies down in a field of sunflowers. Next, Kiefer is shown lying down on the ground with stars overhead. After that, the film cuts to some of Kiefer’s bicycle sculptures: a bicycle with two large fronds or feathers attached to the handlebars and another bicycle carrying bricks.
      The next scene is in Venice where Kiefer himself walks down a marbled portico, and then he is in a room with one of his enormous, wall-size canvases. Then, a scene of post-WWII Germany with people still living in flats with the occasional wall blown out, followed by a possibly historical film of a man walking a tightrope over the ruins. Then the camera pans higher and higher until a scene in a forest replaces the sky. The schoolboy Kiefer stands by a lake. Then the older Kiefer replaces the boy in the same position. With Lilith dresses in the background and a voice saying ‘Childhood is time of education, that’s where the man begins.’ the film ends with the sun again low in the sky with one of Kiefer’s winged, semi-abstract, metal sculptures in the foreground.
      Wenders’s Anselm Kiefer provides a praiseworthy look into the artist’s development, including his now spacious atelier, his artistic enclave in Barjac and some of his artistic production methods. However, a deeper insight into Kiefer’s psyche, especially his flesh and blood relationships, is missing. What about his relationships with other contemporary artists and his own family? How did these people influence his art? How much would we really understand about Picasso if someone made a film about him, but didn’t mention his female lovers, models, partners, and the artists, writers, and artistic movements with which he associated in Spain and in France?
      After an hour and half film about this master, I have little or no idea how his human and artistic relationships are reflected in his work. To really know him better, I would have preferred a bit more flesh and blood.   AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ38 Autumn 2023 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ38 Autumn 2023 Art Review
Anselm Kiefer, Bilderstreit exhibition, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands, 14 October 2023–25 February 2024

                  Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
                  Nothing beside remains….boundless and bare
                  The lone and level sands stretch far away.

                                    from Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Anselm Kiefer is one of the most prolific and successful artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. From humble beginnings in an small attic atelier in Hornback (Walldürn), Germany to his 50 hectare art village in the south of France, his art has gone from strength to strength after being recognized by the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan in the early 1980s. For more than four decades his art has won many important international (American, French, German, Israeli, Italian, and Japanese) prizes and honours. As Barbara Vos, Museum Voorlinden’s head of exhibitions explained at the press preview of Kiefer’s Bilderstreitexhibition, Kiefer’s CV and the access he gave Voorlinden’s curators to his galleries and depots—to choose what they wanted for their museum’s exhibition—made this show even more remarkable.
      Kiefer is best known for his immersive, 3-D, impasto-style extra-large canvases, with imbedded objects, such as straw and scythes that actually project from the canvas into the room. Another aspect of his art is its provocations. As Simon Schama says in the new Wim Wenders film Anselm Kiefer: ‘Kiefer’s art prods incessantly at the wound of German history’, (See film review also in this issue). For example, in the late 1960s, Kiefer had photos and paintings made of himself giving the Nazi salute in his father’s WWII military uniform and in his dressing gown. (This is still illegal in Germany). He also created a series of watercolours of himself giving Nazi salutes in a book entitled: Heroic Symbols, in the New York MOMA’s collection. (See and
      What is on view at the Voorlinden, which includes two of Kiefer’s historical provocations, is his Winterreise (2015-2020) ballet stage set in silver, grey, and black, metallic-like furniture and giant mushrooms. On its floor are cards with the names of important 19th century composers and writers such as Franz Schubert, Heinrich Heine, Herman Hesse, and Hugo Wolf, along with one notorious member from the Rote Armee Fraktion terrorist group: Ulrike Meinhof. The Rote Armee Fraktion was responsible for kidnappings, bombings, bank robberies, and dozens of murders in the 1980s and ’90s. It has been reported that Kiefer created these provocations because no one was talking about the war (WWII or the violent, more contemporary German politics for that matter).
      Lastly, Kiefer’s work is concerned with the mythic past: Biblical, classical, and Germanic with specific artistic references to the Garden of Eden, The Iliad, and Walhalla especially. It also refers to the mysterious pseudo-science of alchemy: changing base metals into gold. Museum Voorlinden’s Bilderstreit exhibition features work from these themes and provocations.
      The exhibition begins with a 3D grain field punctuated by scythes entitled Aus Herzen sprießen die Halme der Nacht. The title of the piece is taken from a line from a poem by Paul Celan, a poet frequently quoted in Kiefer’s paintings. It refers to ‘the stalks of the night, and a word spoken by scythes, inclines them into life.’ In it, the actual stalks of grain and metal scythes stick out from the canvas, the scythes glistening in the gallery light. Like many of Kiefer’s paintings, this one is metres long and wide and takes up most of the wall space. If one stands close enough, the artwork’s construction takes one right into the scene it’s depicting.
      The next two galleries had plaster books with portraits that resembled those of ancient Greece and Rome painted on marble. It also included a three-level vitrine with work from Voorlinden’s permanent collection and some Kiefer pieces displayed on tables from the mid-2010s, including some Parisian drawings.
      The third gallery had canvases with bicycles projecting out of them, one of which is a memento to Kiefer’s time in Amsterdam with the date 5.3.90 in the upper left corner. The next gallery featured bicycles as self-standing sculptures: bikes with fern wings, bikes carrying straw or bricks (one of Kiefer’s most-prevalent post-WWII motifs). Then we passed a gallery with heavy, lead books that were being gently placed onto a lead bookcase by a heavy lifting crane. The guide mentioned that some museum floors sometimes needed to be reinforced to carry the weight of this sculpture. Next, was a gallery of paintings or etchings on wood, which featured WWII bunkers along the Rhine River. One painting, Melancholia, was a tribute to Albrecht Dürer and included his mysterious, impossible polyhedron he had at the top of his own Melancholia (1504) Another piece features Kiefer, as a barefoot and bare-chested old man, lying down in a sunflower field looking upwards at the stars.
      In the next gallery, we viewed Der Morganthau Plan, (mixed media installation, 2012-2023). The principle elements of this artwork are stalks of grain made from plaster soaked wheat staffs, supported by a piece of metal, standing in sandy field. Three objects are partially hidden therein: a book, a watering can, and a snake. The installation was inspired by US President Roosevelt’s Secretary of Finance, Henry Morganthau, Jr.’s plan to de-Nazify the Germans post-WWII through starvation and de-industrialization. However, Kiefer provides no historical context for this project, which was suggested by Morgenthau in 1944 at the height of WWII, when the Allies were making uncertain progress on both their European as well as their Pacific fronts.
      And thus we have the exhibit’s second provocation. What one writer refers to as a false, ‘counterfactual’ event. (See Though the Allies did consider starving and de-industializing Germans in order to de-Nazify them, this part of the plan was never done by the Western Allies. However, a territorial loss for Germany was mentioned in Morgenthau’s plan. Russia and Poland were given territory in the East: Köningsberg became Kalingrad, Danzig became Gdansk and most of the disputed Franco-German western Rhinelands were returned to France.
      However, instead of starving and de-industrializing Germany, the Western Allies, principally America, helped rebuild Western Europe with the Marshall Plan, a system of economic loans, which enabled countries to rebuild with newer factories so that that by the 1970s, Germany was able to outcompete American. Far from exacting tribute, the Western Allies brought peace and prosperity to Western Europe and West Germany. However, this was not mentioned by our guide, nor was there any signage to this effect at the museum at the time of the press preview on 13 October 2023. Unfortunately, this is a textbook example of how a visual, alternative (fictional) history without context can be dangerous and inflammatory.
      Next we viewed what I can only describe as the gold galleries. One painting in particular, seemed to be a homage to Van Gogh reminiscent of one of his works, Wheat Field with Crows, (1890). Kiefer’s version features straw and reapers’ scythes, paint applied with a knife, embossed in gold. Its title could be Vincent in Heaven. Other gold paintings include a sunflower, (another one of Kiefer’s recurring motifs), in the middle of a canvas almost completely surrounded by a layer of gold.
      The last two galleries held what Bos referred to as Kiefer’s container art. The first featured large canvases with NASA numbered stars on predominantly dark brown and black canvases, fired first by Kiefer with a flamethrower and extinguished with water hoses by his assistants. One of these recycled paintings was Sterrenval (1998-2016). However, these stars are not bright, swirling, and captivating as Van Gogh’s, but rather distant, unremarkable points of light hermetically identified by international astronomical numbers. The second were a group of vitrine sculptures composed of bricks, wire, leaves, an old scale, a forest diorama, and a stack of old wheelchairs.
      The best of these works is entitled, Karfunkelfee (2009), (gold paint, chemise, jesmonite, snake, brambles, concrete, acrylic oil, emulsion, ash, and shellac on canvas in steel and glass frame). It features a white chemise hovering in a wood. The case’s glass also reflects the viewer so that unexpectedly a ghost version of one’s self appears inside the diorama as one views the piece. However, other works in this room, such as Die Walküre (2016) and especially Im Herbst dreht sich die Erde etwas schneller (0,06 sec.) (2018), are far more static, (ironic considering the latter sculpture is made out of leaves strung on an almost transparent wire to simulate their falling). Morovalvat, (date unknown) a sculpture of eight stacked wheelchairs (the three towards the bottom being increasingly crushed by the others on top), was for me, enigmatic, even though I am wheelchair user. What is Kiefer trying to say with this sculpture? Does this sculpture reflect the teetering balancing act wheelchairs users must often perform as they try to see and navigate exhibits in many European museums, where accessibility is sometimes an afterthought? Even in modern ones, let alone older ones, architectural integrity always seems to trump building accessibility, the location and number of toilets, (usually no more than two for museums with thousands of visitors per day), and sometimes the lack of space between the exhibits themselves as reflected in my past reviews of museum exhibits AQ6, AQ12, and AQ33.
      Hanging on the wall behind these last four vitrine sculptures is a typical Kieferesque painting of a post-war, barren, snowy, winter field with protruding stalks or fence posts. However, on the wall to the right, is a painting of Templehof Airport, Die Freimaurer (2010-11) with a mason’s compass hovering over the scene inscribed with a German and French phrase on each of its legs. This compass, which takes in this enormous airport landscape, reminds me of William Blake’s painting, Ancient of Days, where God uses a similar instrument to construct and measure his creation. Another Blake painting, Newton, has the inventor of calculus and the discoverer of the laws of celestial motion holding a similar instrument.
      However, our guide or someone from the press, referred to Templehof as a disused Berlin airport. Once again, if they had known their history, they would have realized the historical significance of this airport. From June 1948 to May 1949, it was the centre of the Western Allies Luftbrücke (air bridge). At Templehof, the C-47 Skytrains unloaded their cargo, one landing and another taking off every five minutes. This airlift kept West Berlin well-stocked from the air, and ultimately broke the Soviet’s land blockade, which was designed to put all of that city, even the French, British, and American zones, under Soviet control.
      In addition to the lack of historical signage, I have another issue with one of Kiefer’s signature pieces, his lead books, which are so heavy they must be placed carefully on to bookshelves with a crane. Here, I believe, I concur with the dean’s response to Lord Risley’s comment in EM Forester’s novel Maurice. Risley says that Maurice ‘shall soon forget the cutlet he is eating, but never our conversation’. The dean interjects that Risley is confusing ‘what’s important with what’s impressive.’ Yes, the heavy, lead book sculpture is impressive, but is it important? I don’t believe so. A book is weighty and important due to the ideas it contains, not due to the weight of its construction.
      Coincidentally, a few days later, I received a copy of the 2 November 2023 The New York Review of Books with an article on the rapid rise of Nazis to power in March 1933. However, what made this article most memorable was a photograph with the caption: ‘A book burning after SA troops stormed the offices of the Dresdener Volkszeitung, a newspaper allied with the Social Democratic Party, Dresden, Germany, March 8, 1933.’ (‘When the Barbarians Take Over’, Pankaj Mishra, The New York Review of Books, Vol. LXX, #17, [2 November 2023], p. 8). I’ve seen many photos of Nazi book burnings. This is the first I’ve seen taken in broad daylight, with dozens of SA soldiers milling about the burning stack, which is guarded by two policemen with rifles. I can tell you the weight of this photograph on my memory was far greater than any piles of bricks or lead I’ve ever seen.
      And yes, Kiefer’s output is impressive, but I miss the change or evolution of newer, innovative styles as by other 20th century artists such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, or Henri Matisse. Kiefer’s Klimtic transformations of Van Gogh’s previously tortured, crenulated, cerebral furrows of black crows and a dark, ploughed field and threatening sky, are meant as a homage. However, drenched in gold they actually miss and negate the point of Van Gogh’s mental disturbance and suffering which he graphically projected onto his landscapes.
      In Wim Wenders’ film, Anselm Kiefer, (see review also in this issue), we see an exhibition by Kiefer of wall-size canvases in a Venetian palazzo. Here, Kiefer used the same motifs, endlessly reworked in the same style. These are the relics of war, empty, snowy fields, bunkers along the Rhine, building bricks from bombings, old sunflowers with bulging seed heads, or lying in a field as a boy or as himself: a shirtless, barefoot, old man, perhaps contemplating the stars like Elon Musk and the world’s rich clique of financial titans, dreaming of living on another planet among the stars, instead of depicting the urgency of saving this one, in less than a decade, for everyone. Where are Kiefer’s images of our warming, polluted, storm-tossed, dying planet, and its hundreds of millions of displaced persons as well as the world-wide current rise of totalitarianism, the decline of free speech and a free press? Where is Kiefer’s call to save the earth and its climate-displaced inhabitants within the next decade?
      There are only seven years to go to stop the earth’s looming environmental disaster. What if Kiefer painted canvases entitled: Miami or Venice 2050, where most of that state or city were underwater, or Siberia 2050, with holes burnt into a snowy landscape by his flamethrower to show the increasing occurrence of underground, Arctic, methane explosion craters that now pockmark the landscape there? These would definitely be a provocative clarion call to the super-rich in the art and the fossil fuel energy industries (almost one and the same these days) to pay attention to the global climate crisis before it’s too late.
      Kiefer should address these subjects or visitors, both earth-bound or perhaps from other planets, may someday report on his art village and the planet in centuries to come, the same way as Shelley described Ozymandias’s ruined ‘great works’.    AQ

Pat Seman – AQ38 Autumn 2023 Book Review

Pat Seman
AQ38 Autumn 2023 Book Review
Winkel-Mellish, Robin, An Obeisance to Frogs, Hands-On Books, IBSN 978-1-928215-90-5, 56 pages.

The title poem of Robin Winkel-Mellish’s An Obeisance to Frogs, seems to contain the very seed of this collection; like the frogs’ chorus, her poems, springing from an ‘animist heart’ and rooted in a deep attachment to the natural world, serve as a subtle but powerful ‘mantra to the living’.
      The first section of the book is devoted to the landscape and wild life of her native South Africa, where in ‘Earthward’ she gets ‘to feel the touch of sea/ the oily perfume of bush’, to listen ‘in bodiless moments to the sounds of night and love the heavy pulse/of gathered earth’. In ‘Snake’, with precise and vivid detail powered by terror, she pays homage to the beauty of a Cape cobra discovered hiding under an old rug in her garage, ‘potent as a king’, ‘Hooded gold/it stood up and glittered/ in the half dark’, its ‘spitting, sleek silk ’ ’a swaying reed of rancour’.
      In ‘Messenger’, however, a dove crashing into her window is an omen that this world is in grave peril. As she writes in ‘Oracle’, ‘when the messenger of God/ lay dead on my stoop, I knew/The old rivers of life had shifted/little rivulets of life that once flowed/had sunk, boreholes dried up/ our lives of plenty ended.’
      Yet, throughout this collection, which spans both South Africa and Europe, the human connection is always present as a source of hope and joy. Hope, as embodied in the woman, a man and their son, whom she comes across in ‘Encounter’, and conveyed in images that express a free-flow of life and plenty. ‘As natural as earth and air, never/hiding the fountain of themselves’, they are the born protectors of the Africa that she loves, ‘the caretakers of a coastline’, whilst ‘the way their son danced ‘the movement/a blossoming’ expresses the sheer joy of the body in movement; this a recurring theme. In ‘Ode to Legs’ she declares ‘How precious you are, dancing/and jumping for joy just as a caracal/that swats a flying bird in the air/opening to celebrate life and great pleasure’.
      Moments of self-discovery are drawn from her emotional connection to the natural world. The cicadas’ singing in ‘Cicadas’, ‘unseen but constant’, triggers the sudden realization that ‘this is the heart’s/greatest project:…’to keep on trying to make something/of the bright new surface of each day/and at the same time recognize/and cherish the great scar of demise’.
      This embrace of experience, ‘learning how to hold on’ (‘Cicadas’) through the inevitable cycles of life and death, love and loss, is a constant in these poems, its presence subtly and often beautifully expressed in images of the emergence from darkness into light. In ‘Turning Point’, Winkler-Mellish describes how as a child she would dive into mountain pools, down to the muddy bottom, then turn upward, ‘weightless arms unfurled/ swimming from the bottom/ of the world towards light’. In ‘A Look at Love’ the two lovers, ‘fallen out of shadow’ are now ‘a chrysalis emerging, transparent/as shiny drops, clothed in shimmering’. This image of the lovers bound together in a chrysalis ‘by threads of silk, together/though apart. Plumed wings unfolding’ renders the nature of their contact with great delicacy and precision. As so often in these poems, humans are connected not only to each other but to a closely observed and deeply appreciated natural world.
      The book ends with the long poem ‘Kaggen the Thief of Time’ in which a woman, caught at the midnight hour between the worlds of the living and the dead, as her life ‘shimmers/in the periphery of light and pall’, recovers distant memories of her lost love. In a string of images drawn from and inspired by the cave paintings, myths, stories and songs of traditional Bushman culture, she ‘shadow dances with ghosts/heeds Kaggen as he tells his vision/the last Bushman song sung into the night’.
      The poem’s ending, as she waits for the moon and the evening star to rise again, resonates with one of the most striking images related by Kaggen. ‘The stars…they steal your heart and it opens/like a flower in the sky’. The same could be said for this collection of poems, whose quiet strength, drawn from an intimate and heartfelt attachment to the wild in all its aspects and the wisdom gained from it, consistently offers an opening to life, love and hope.   AQ

Bryan R. Monte – Summer 2023 (AQ37) Book Review

Bryan R. Monte – Summer 2023 (AQ37) Book Review
Bob Ward, In and Out of Doors, Meniscus Publications, Holt, Norfolk, UK, 2023, 29 pages (available from

In and Out of Doors, by poet and photographer, Bob Ward, is a pamphlet of poetry and photos of doors and their importance as related to their physical, metaphorical, and even metaphysical associations. It is a collection of nineteen, short, rhythmic and sometimes rhyming poems inspired by doors. They include the doors of houses, occupied and abandoned, gardens, a clock repair shop and a prison, and even a door in a mountain passage way that leads to another country. Interspersed with these poems about various types of doors are six photos of doors or doorways, which relate directly to the poems on the facing pages.
      In and Out of Doors has two epigraphs. The first, ‘Lift yourselves up, you everlasting doors / that the king of glory may come in’, is from Psalm 24:7. It refers to the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The second, ‘Knock, knock, knock. Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzubub?’, is from Macbeth Act 2 scene 3. It compares Inverness Castle’s door (with all its bloodshed within) to Hell’s gate. They both portend that this slim pamphlet will contain a weighty exploration of doors. On the facing page of this dedication is a close up photograph of an old style latch handle and keyhole, which also shows the beautiful vertical grain of the door’s wood.
      In and Out of Doors’s poetic narrative follows, with just two possible exceptions, the human arc of development from before birth, birth, childhood, (young) adult experiences of sensuality to later adult experiences of ageing and holding on, to the eventual surrender to death and a possible afterlife. The first poem, ‘Asleep’, occurs before birth. In it, the book’s speaker chooses the ‘nearby door ajar’ , even though some hinted it, ‘would lead to death.’ However, ‘passing through / to this world I became awake.’ The photo on the facing page of this poem is of an electrical mains box at the base of a tree trunk. The box is behind a little house with a roof, a door, and a lock, suggestive of an entrance to some Alice in Wonderland underworld.
      The poem, ‘Birth’, follows naturally. In it the child-age narrator is greeted at his own front door by a new housekeeper, hired in his absence, with the existential question ‘Who are you?’ A photo on the facing page features a traditional urban rowhouse, perhaps similar to the one described in ‘Birth’. Another childhood experience is ‘MR Vincent’, about a clockmaker, to whose shop the speaker goes to get the family ‘Westminster chiming clock’ repaired after it was damaged by a nearby ‘fly-bomb’ (V1 rocket). ‘An abrupt jangly bell’ announces the boy’s entrance. But even though the Mr Vincent can repair clocks, the narrator still observes astutely that ‘time / kept slipping through his fingers.’
      The next poem, ‘Doorways: for Robert Palethorpe’, features a facing page photo of a garden door ‘overgrown with ivy / paint flaking, signs of rot’ exactly as described in the accompanying poem.
Next, ‘Zugspitze’, tells the story of a mountain ‘gifted by the Emperor / to his neighbour going short / of elevated land.’ (A longer, prose version of this story, entitled ‘Frontier’, was originally published in AQ26 at ). At the end of an ‘ice-glazed tunnel / hewn through solid rock’ the tourists encounter ‘ a pale blue wooden door’ that leads to another country, ‘No passports; no guards / controlling entry.’
      Other poems describe experiences such as finding just a door in an alleyway with a £5 for sale sign attached to it in ‘Back Yard Sale’, an abandoned house in a poem of the same name, at the edge of village, which begs the question why the house is standing empty ‘where homeless families hold no key to life.’ ‘Letterbox’ is a quatrain about a ‘neurotic dog … that tears your post apart.’ after it’s dropped through the door’s mail slot.
      The book’s second section begins with only one of the two characters, the one on the left side of the page, which previously appeared paired on the book’s title page. Perhaps this is to indicate that we are now inside something, while previously, the poetic scenes were set on the outside. This begins with the poem ‘That Woman’. Here Ward pairs the common metaphor of the key to one’s heart with the image of the door to create cautionary tale. A woman has given the key to her heart to the wrong man, who

                  …turned the lock,
               threw back the door,
               and trampled in.

He also takes they key with him so that other men can enter her house/room without needed to use one so that

                  …new men step inside
               without so much as flicking
                ash off their cigarettes.

This poem is somewhat of a noir piece, from a different time, hopefully, for most women in the Western world, or perhaps not, and certainly not for women in the non-Western world. Other poems in this section include those about ghosts ‘unable / to pass through walls / erected for security, in ‘Frayed Agenda’, a breakfast of ‘two rashers / nestling together warmly / with one field mushroom / acting as a pillow, / and a half tomato (grilled)’ announced by a kitchen door thump in ‘Cuisine’, and a pirate, who goes to a ‘Paint flaking … castle door’ behind which a ‘guarded woman’ is kept in ‘Bluebeard’.
      In ‘HMP: Drawing Keys’ Ward masterfully describes a prison’s oppressive atmosphere in his very first verse:

               Like freedom’s death-rattle
               key clatter down a chute
               so you can minister to shuttered lives.’

Ward describes how the guards ‘clip the bunch (of keys) to a thick / black tightly buckled belt.’ to prevent a ‘snatch’ or a ‘scan (of the) uncovered keys / to copy with a make-shift file,’. It’s no doubt that this heightened awareness of the guards’ surveillance for their safety and of punishing effects detention is based on Ward’s years as a prison chaplain. In addition, these lines describe especially well Ward’s poetic style composed of short, simple lines reinforced with alliteration that strings the images together, similar to a set of keys on a ring.
      This second section continues with ‘Open Up’. It’s about ‘Pulling back the door of an old wardrobe’ that contains a winter ‘garment I no longer wear, / the zip has broken teeth, it will not hold.’ introducing the theme of decay, which is also touched on in several poems thereafter. In ‘Phlebotomy Department’, for example, the speaker is let in with an

                   …urgent buzz
               from the clinic door
               that summons the next in line
               to pass to the other side.

as if the blood work done here will determine life and death itself—which it may. Another poem ‘Entrances’ is about sliding, automatic, institutional or business doors which sometimes don’t recognize those who want to enter before they smash into them, a constant bane or my existence as a wheelchair user. Below this photo is storefront with the lettering ‘Dinosaur service centre’, perhaps a joke about how some younger people view older people who still patronise brick and mortar stores.
       Next follows ‘Entering’, which seems to me to be more about crossing into a metaphysical space rather than a physical one. ‘Entering’, ‘Letterbox’, ‘HMP: Drawing Keys’ and the terminal poem, ‘A Light Matter’, are the only poems in this collection that don’t explicitly mention a door or doors. (However, it is clearly implied in ‘Letterbox’ that the poet is describing a door’s mail slot and in ‘HMP: Drawing Keys’, that keys are used to open and shut cell and security doors). ‘Entering’ instead of discussing doors, discusses doubt and temptation. It describes a place or situation where ‘faith draws you blindly / under tension / like the strings / you pluck for music.’ However this advice comes ‘at your back’ and from ‘wooden ears’ with the poem’s terminal line of advice ‘choose not to follow.’
       ‘Holding On’ is about preparing for death. The speaker mentions that he’s older:

               than my kin gone before
               these are my bonus days
               until I’m faced by the door
               to the one-way passage.

      In the meantime, the speaker says, ‘I maintain my grip until / at last, (I) will let it slip.’ On the facing page is a photograph of an entrance to a stone structure without a door, perhaps representing a tomb. Here, the black and white photography brings out the architectural stones grain and weight.
      The last poem of In and Out of Doors, ‘A Light Matter’, takes place ‘At the entrance / to a Black Hole.’ Inside this place, the poet imagines, perhaps in the vein of the traditional Christian-held belief of the hereafter, that it is not just ‘darkness’ but ‘light upon light / upon light… / and angels dancing/ quantum quadrilles.’ (I’d also like to note that some theoretical physicists think that the matter that these black holes ingest, which isn’t release in gamma or other radiation, might be released into another universe to continue the process of creation there.)
      Bob Ward has certainly packed a lot into his little pamphlet, In and Out of Doors. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to AQ’s readers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.      AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ36 Spring 2023 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ36 Spring 2023 Book Reviews

Donald Gardner, New and Selected Poems 1966-2020, Grey Suit, ISBN 978-190300625-2, 227 pages.
Amlanjyoti Goswami, Vital Signs, Poetrywala, ISBN 978-0-99-702544-1, 121 pages
Susan E. Lloy, Nothing Comes Back, Now or Never Publishing, ISBN 978-1-989689-48-6, 128 pages.

The old adage, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover,’ is certainly a wise piece of advice. However, an attractive cover can certainly draw a potential reader to pick up a book and start reading it. This is the case with the three books I am reviewing for this thirty-sixth issue of Amsterdam Quarterly. They all have stately or creative covers that reflect the quality of the work within. Unlike the two other writers whose work is listed above, I will spend the most space on Donald Gardner’s New and Selected Poems 1966-2020 as his poetry collection spans his sixty-year career.
      New and Selected Poems’s simple grey cover, with a Grey Suit Edition thistle logo below, certainly reflects the dignity, the summing up of a poet’s writing over more than half a century. It contains selections from Gardner’s seven published poetry collections (along with a few unpublished, early poems) which capture the sweep of his life and the spirit of the intervening decades—from the hippie, globetrotting era of the ’60s and early’70s, to the moneymaking ’80s and ’90s, to early 21st century pre-Corona pandemic work. Also, unlike many poetry books, it features an honest, contemporary photo of Gardner, by Amina Marix Evans, opposite the second title page, not one from thirty years ago, as many ‘mature’ poets are want to do. In total, the book has nine sections including one with previously unpublished early poems.
      According to the poet at a 31 January reading at Waterstone’s in Amsterdam, on the advice of two friends, Mary O’Donnell and Mary Sawkins, Gardner kept his early poems down to a few. And the nineteen poems included in New and Selected Poems’ first five sections exhibit this care. In the first section, ‘Uncollected Early Poems (1966-1969) are four poems: the first two are about young wanderlust, ‘In Mexico City, In Villahermosa’, the third, ‘Man in Disturbing Mirror’ about art and nudity, the last, ‘The Boys of Kensington School’, about blind, adolescent sexual passion.
      The second section contains five poems from Peace Feelers (1969). The first, ‘Passavia’, is a tale about an odd dog, that hangs around in the village with no outward desire to mate or help hunters, but at a distance, fed by tourists, that is eventually stoned by the villagers, one of whom tells the poet its story. Perhaps this wandering, aimless dog is an extended metaphor for the poet, who in many poems later, seems to find himself comfortably on the periphery of society. ‘Night Thoughts’ is a five-part, humorous poem about a couple who dress for sleep appropriate to their dreams: the man with ‘his thickest sweater, climbing boots, and snow goggles’ for his ascent of ‘Mount Everest from the Chinese side’ and the woman in a ‘red polka-dot bikini’ for her ‘Pacific’ beach dream.
      ‘Climbing the Eiger in Our Sleep’ is another poem about a couple dreaming, only this time their dream is shared. Each only has half of the dream, so they must work to piece it together. The short lines float down the page perhaps to replicate the gentle yet partial knowledge of their dreams about tree or mountain climbing and swimming in a pool or a mirror. These lines remind me of William Carlos Williams’s short, metrically-varied poetry. They include lines about ‘fumbling / late-night love-making, // clinging // to each other // like swimmers // drowning or // treading water’.
      ‘Indirections’ is a much more humorous poem about falling while trying to get out of a bathtub, trying to answer the telephone to not miss a date. However, the poet philosophises his falling naked on the floor and injuring his hip. He compares his body to ‘that whale the seventeenth-century Hollanders admired so much’ reasons that if he got there in time, he’d probably been electrocuted’ and concludes ‘You learn to take things slowly or fall flat.’ something I know only too well from years of falls due to my multiple sclerosis.
      ‘Bread and Stones’ is about youthful problems—being poor in the big city—and philosophising with two street people ‘I like the freedom of the individual; my life to live’ The poet tells them his ‘head if full of skyscrapers, projects for the ideal city, an empire if the mind // where Plato is vastly entertained by Bridget Bardot and / St. Francis loosens his girdle.’ These are lines in the spirit and perhaps a little bit of the voice of Frank O’Hara.
      His poem, ‘Let’s All Make Love Tonight in London’ is a delight because it composed of a list of disparate things that make London, London. The poet mentions: ‘boys boarding schools, bad plumbing, the accent on virtue,’ ‘The rich of the rich and the poor of the poor,’ and ‘Burnt toast, Indian teas, transport cafes, families’. In just thirty-one lines, Gardner mentions memorable London sights and smells, ending, of course, with the royal family.
      He also mentions globetrotting with a political awareness. ‘A Guide to Greece, 1970’ is a sort of ‘Tourists in Dictatorland’ during the junta years. Gardner begins the poem with ‘The Greek people have vanished behind their faces’ then mentions ‘olive groves’ that are ‘cancelled’, Mount Hymettos … ‘invisible’ and the Parthenon … ‘a stone life-size copy’. Even the wine tastes of water, the water of air, and the air tastes of nothing. The only thing real in this country are a man’s shouts as he is being beaten by a policeman, or Yannis Ritsos, 61. In prison. / On Samos. Coughing up blood.’ and ‘tourists taking photos of each other.’ seemingly unaware of the political situation.
      Another poem, which I think reflects Gardner’s social and political awareness, is ‘The Unwelcome Dinner’ in ‘The Wolf Inside’ (2014), which book I will only mention briefly because I reviewed it in AQ9 and my review can still be read at This poem gives insight into Gardner’s disinterest in status and networking. In it the poet decides not to go to a posh university alumni dinner in The Hague: ‘five courses, two glasses of wine, seventy euros’… ‘to meet some people he would never normally see.’ In the end, the poet decides that even though he’d ‘Paid for dinner.’… (he’d) ‘Paid for not going. // It was worth the price.’
      The next section, from Gardner’s book, ‘Early Morning’ (2017), contains many poems about Amsterdam, writing challenges, and love and death. In ‘Windows on the World’ the poet loses and miraculously finds his glasses in the gutter outside the Posthoornkerk, their lenses ‘reflecting Cuypers spires’. ‘Blind Side’ is about a cyclist colliding disastrously with a truck, her bicycle ‘its front wheel ripped off, the rest— / you could still see it was a woman’s bike— / flung across the road’ ‘Amsterdam Aubade’ is about an morning delight. All three poems clearly take place in Mokkum.
      The poems ‘Room Where I Write My Poetry’, ‘Pushing the Envelope’, ‘Sweet Muse of Poetry,’ ‘Out of Sorts’, and ‘April in August’ all reflect the poet’s difficulty in writing poetry. ‘Toilette De Femme’, ‘Steep Yearning Curve’ (clever title) and the above-mentioned ‘Amsterdam Aubade’ are all about attraction and/or love. They are an interesting combination with three other poems about death such as ‘Little scuffling sounds late at night’ in ‘Crawl Space’, ‘occupied by a few people gone underground in the last war.’ ‘Shorter Than I Thought’ where death ‘has a tailor’s shop in Hackney’, where he measures up Gardner for a suit and ‘Arnold Talking’ about a seriously ill relative on a morphine drip. They, along with a few other poems in this section, create such as interesting combination—Amsterdam, history, sex, death, and writer’s block.
      The last section in this collection, entitled ‘New Poems (2017-2020)’ is about negotiating with death, the poet’s own and others, while still yielding to the desire to explore and write. In addition, two of these poems reflect the poet’s awareness of climate change. In ‘Snowdrops and Daffodils’, for example, Gardner writes: Spring comes in a tight package now. / One perfect day / followed by weeks of / hurrying clouds, high winds / and downpour then, / just as suddenly, / the dustbowl of summer.’ Also, in ‘Little Weight’ he writes: ‘An afternoon in late September / unseasonably warm / but what’s seasonable now?’ One of his favourite metaphors in this section is a stormy or unsettled sea. It’s mentioned in three poems ‘Suddenly It Is Evening’, ‘A Revenant’, and ‘Daymare’. In ‘Suddenly It Is Evening’, the poet imagines ‘suddenly a cyclone / … whips up out of nowhere / .. the vestiges of yourself / wreckage dispersed / over a sleeping ocean’. In ‘A Revenant’ he describes: ‘pushing my own boat / … into darkening waters / Waves rolling toward me / … White foam bearding the midnight sky.’ However, in ‘Overspill’, love brings him ashore, ‘stroke after stroke /from a far place / amidst the tossing waves.’
      In all, Gardner’s New and Selected Poems is quite an impressive book filled with memorable poems and images, many of them rooted in Amsterdam. It is a well-edited collection.
      Amlanjyoti Goswami’s book, Vital Signs is part family history, part biography, part tribute to Hindu cultural figures, gods, and festivals, and to food, the body, and jazz. The book’s cover is very a simple photograph of three brown fingers curled around a light blue door on a dark blue background. The book itself is formally divided into three parts entitled ‘Life’, ‘Belief’, and ‘Fellowship’, all containing epigraphs from a poem in each of the respective sections.
      The epigraph for ‘Life’ is ‘Every breath is a birthday’ which is the terminal line of ‘seeing it new’. This poem’s first two lines are: ‘The old year is leaving through the window / The new year waits outside the door.’ This theme of time is repeated in other poems such as, ‘How to peel the perfect potato’, which seems at first to be about cooking but, which like many of the culinary poems in this volume, actually seems to be also about meditation. It addresses the concept of time as follows:

          The trick is, make time wait at the passing door.

          The trick is: there is no trick, no perfect chef

The poem, ‘Shapeshifting’, also begins with the concept of time:

          The old ones have left
          And the young ones hide behind shadow.

But the most extraordinary poem in this section is Goswami’s poem about his mother, entitled ‘At the end of the day’. The poem portrays a tough, confident, self-sufficient woman, who checks herself out of hospital to walk home:

          My mother will shrug off
          The oxygen cylinder, tubes on her nose
          Take out those pin pricks from wrists and arms …
          Dodge the guards who ask where she is going…
          And downstairs even pay the bills,
          The ones insurance won’t allow.

After all that, once she arrives home, all she wants to do is ‘enter her own room’ and ask ‘Where was I so long?’ to return to herself.
      The themes of time, transition, and the mixing of the old and the new are repeated throughout this collection, especially in the second and third sections, entitled ‘Belief’ and ‘Fellowship’. They include poems about ancient Hindu gods and modern Indian writers, doctors and bookstore owners, and ceremonies, such as a wedding, (‘A Wedding in Kushinagar’) held at a historic site.
      The second section, ‘Belief’, begins with the quote: ‘One must also make it float’, from the poem ‘Art Lessons’, which is about concentrating on what the artist sees. ‘Even if the canvas remained empty. / You will learn something About flowers he said.’ This philosophy is also reiterated in the short poem ‘Zen’ in which Goswami says he only found something once he ‘Forgot what it was / I was looking for // And found it / Looking for me at the door.’ This section also includes the title poem,‘Vital Signs’. In it, Goswami reaffirms ‘I haven’t lost my faith / In the body.’ He enumerates this through his diet which things are good for his body: ‘Make(s) brain from walnut, kidney from bean’ and states his philosophical belief ‘It is to the body we return / After many a cartesian turn.’ Included also in this section are poems about augury. ‘At the butcher’s’ (first published in AQ28), and ‘Healing’ where a list of opposites added together seem to balance each other out.
      The last section features some ekphrastic poems such as ‘Woman of the High Plains’ about Dorothea Lange’s photo of the same title. In it Goswami describes ‘a woman /Scorched by the sun.’ whose smile / Turns her into an emblem, / Fortitude against the elements.’ In ‘Dr. Bordoloi decides to stay back’, an anti-war poem, Goswami writes about a physician who released imprisoned mental patients. In ‘The Bookshop’, he writes about KD Singh, owner of the above, whose near extinction he predicts ‘early 21st’ (century) like ‘A bird in the Pacific. Last seen 19th circa.’ Other poetic tributes include ones to Manglesh Dabral in ‘For Manglesh Dabral’, Dr. M.K. Bhan in “Midnight’s Child’, Nipjyoti Barua in ‘What Nip Da taught me’, and there’s one to beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in ‘Our First Ferlinghetti’.
      Vital Signs provides an interesting and revealing look at Goswami’s religious, historical, musical, and culinary roots—a literary feast for the senses.
          Frequent AQ contributor Susan E. Lloy’s short story collection, Nothing Comes Back, provides a dark, sometimes humorous, look at the Sid-Vicious-and-Nancy, baby bust generation as they struggle with insufficient funds to cross the retirement finish line. Lloy’s stories have a unique mix of characters and conflicts sometimes including alternative sexual arrangements. These include polygamous Mormon soft-porn out West, the perils of a poorly-chosen Nova Scotian real estate nest egg, marital jealousy/infidelity, café and bar pickups, and mayhem on the high seas. Lloy’s stories are surprising and entertaining, many with unexpected twists and endings.
      The cover of Nothing Comes Back features a clockface unwinding into a downward spiral, similar to some representations of Einstein’s concept of space-time. The first and title story of this collection is about Sybil, who ‘doesn’t have money socked away’ as some of her contemporaries do, for extensive travels, but enough socked away for one special trip.’ She travels out to the American West’s colourful canyons and river valleys. Then she wins and shortly thereafter loses big at a Nevada casino. Almost broke, she meets and falls in love with a man who turns out to be a Mormon polygamist, who persuades her to join his ‘big’ family. However, later she discovers that he has attempted to drain her remaining savings account without her permission. For the time, she decides to let it ride, plotting her next move, in typically Lloy narrative fashion, beyond the actual story.
      Lloy’s stories’ characters, and their almost unbearable or impossible situations, are her narrative hallmark. Plot and nicely wrapped up endings in general are unreal in her fictional world. People striking out late in life on their own, with what little they’ve saved, finally pursuing their dreams, is commonplace.
      Unconventional living situations, including polyandry, are common in Lloy’s stories due the protagonists a lack of money. In ‘The Wayward Collective’, a woman named Wanda finds herself taking in housemates to pay for her house’s renovations. Perry, ‘an artist who used to work with marble, but has recently changed to fiberglass resin, is taken in first for this money. Then Dot, when the plumbing goes bad and Japamala, ‘who has ‘spirited blue eyes’ and ‘travels the world visiting yoga retreats’. Lastly comes Ethan or ‘Taffy as he is often called, always tanned a creamy bronze the colour of the chewy candy.’ He ‘a former roofer, who uses a cane subsequent to a fall and who was on disability until his pension kicked in’. Everything starts out well: the house’s residents eat one communal meal together per week. However, with this batch of steamy characters, it’s hard not to predict the intramural action, rearrangements and falling outs that soon happen.
      In this collection, the short stories are sometimes interspersed with much shorter, sometimes barely page-long vignettes, such as ‘Lingerie’, ‘Skin’, ‘Proost’, and ‘What’s What’. In ‘Lingerie’ a man in a laundromat notices an older woman who reminds him of ‘an aging actress’ with ‘a certain elegance’. ‘Skin’ is about an older woman, who’s skin she thinks looks like ‘tired lace’, who watches young people walk by. ‘Proost’ is about an older woman practising her Kegels and eyeing an attractive, older man who returns her interest and ‘invites her to his place.’ ‘What’s What’ features unnamed narrator who complains about the tourists who frequent his/her town, and about ‘That bully is still in office, tweeting and ranting, spewing maniacal commentaries like some just released sociopath.’, placing this excerpt firmly in the Trump era. All four are suggestive, short sketches, with the rest of the story left up to the reader’s imagination.
      Another story about Lloy’s retirement-poor characters taking their fate into her own hands is ‘Finders Keepers’. Here, the daughter of artist whose father was killed in a car crash, takes revenge on the people who bought her father’s studio, but will not share her father’s ‘two hundred paintings’ they later discover concealed ‘beneath floorboards’. This character describes her situation as:

‘Rape. That’s what it feels like. Sadness and are anger are the initial responses. Vengeance follows soon after. ‘I procured a good lawyer only to be told … “Finders, keepers.” … The only thing I managed to salvage was copyright control. The collector can’t reproduce any images of his sleazily acquired collections in the form of books of anything that will make a profit.’

And the plot thickens from there.
      Lloy stories are also about down-and-out characters, who don’t always win even pyrrhic victories. ‘La Chambre’ and ‘Final Sentence’ feature people who once were well-off or at least well taken care of, who have lost everything either by hook or by crook. Both of these stories involve inheritances. In ‘La Chambre’ a woman foolishly liquidates her inherited estate (including a very large home) for her new husband. He invests this in his shady holding company and ends up losing it all. After legally clearing her name in the matter, the woman ends up in a halfway house, then on assistance in a one room flat and ultimately working as a maid in the upscale neighbourhood where she formerly lived. In ‘Final Sentence’ a male writer and gambler, whose mother had saved him many times from debt, finds that she has left the bulk of her estate to ‘Friends of Save the Forest’ and left only her Lexus to him. He cashes this in, and soon loses this money gambling. These are real stories populated with real people with real foibles, with no artificial, happy endings.
      There are a few stories, such as ‘Flipside’ or ‘A Weed in the Canyon’, in which things end well even after the characters have been betrayed, whose protagonists accept their lot and hopefully with make the best of it. However, these stories are rare in Nothing Comes Back. Most are filled with dark secrets and/or betrayal. In ‘And then’, another story about an inheritance, a cryptic message is left by Hugo before he commits suicide. After his funeral and wake, three long-time friends, Augusta (his wife), Lola, and Frankie, confess to serious criminal mistakes. Frankie, an attorney, reveals that after a night of drinking, he drove into and seriously injured a woman, then left the scene of the accident. Lola reveals she slept with Hugo, got pregnant, but kept her son’s patrimony a secret. Lastly, Augusta admits to ‘milking one of their’(her late husband’s joint) ‘savings accounts’ to help a needy family who turned out to be ‘grifters’. Lola suggests that that might have been the reason why Hugo killed himself.
      ‘Synthesis of a Dream’ and the collection’s last story, ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’, are about couples who go out in sailboats, the former a yacht on the Mediterranean and the latter, a smaller training craft on the Canadian Atlantic Coast. Let it be said two people go out, and only one (perhaps) makes it back. You’ll want to read these stories yourself to find out who survives—and why.   AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ35 Autumn 2022 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ35 Autumn 2022 Book Reviews

Appel, Jacob M., Shaving with Occam, Hollywood Books International, ISBN 978-1-735-360133, 2022, 260 pages.
Seman, Pat, Ariadne’s Thread, self-published, available from Amazon, IBSN 979-8-820-227653, 2022, 40 pages.

A slim, beautiful, blue poetry pamphlet (Amer. Eng. chapbook) entitled Ariadne’s Thread by Amsterdam Quarterly veteran Pat Seman arrived in my letterbox over the summer. Seman’s poetry and photography about Greece, and Crete especially, has appeared regularly in Amsterdam Quarterly over the past decade. In addition to the excellent poetry inside, her pamphlet has an eye-catching cover and internal design by her son, Alexander Klerk. The cover features the head of woman or goddess, known as Peplos Kore, in Athens’s Acropolis Museum (Greek Archaic Period), with large eyes and flowing, wavy hair, the perfect image for a Seman’s poetry collection set in a Cretan landscape of sun, wind, sea, hills, fig and pomegranate trees, goats, ancient ruins, and of course, mythology.
      The strength of Ariadne’s Thread comes through Seman’s astute observation and juxtaposition of imagery through which she finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. Her first poem, ‘Said she wanted to die’ opens her collection dramatically ‘With the dark flame under the fig tree / where the split tree offers itself to the sun’. And of course, in addition to the sun and the rocky soil, this is a land ‘where sky meets the sea in a pencilled blue line’. The sea is present in one way or another in almost all of these poems.
      It is collection of poems about an island that has been the stage for successive cultures over the millennia. From ‘a snake coiled / it held her / motionless / under a dark sun’ a symbol of power and divination in Cretan culture in ‘The Earth Held Her’, to ancient Greek culture in the poems ‘Persephone’ and ‘Labyrinth’ (with its two sections entitled ‘Ariadne’ and ‘Theseus’) to Greek Christian culture in ‘Epitathios’ and ‘Litany’, the latter which ‘…saints have retreated / into their darkened icons, / (and) long tapering candles that burn without a prayer’, and the modern era in ‘The Stranger’ where Seman’s epigraph about Dionysius precedes her poem about a male backpacker with ‘sculptured muscles, / on his bare calves, the broad / tanned feet and naked torso’ asleep on the beach. She muses whether this ‘Young traveller, (is a) vagrant, refugee // or the god himself / on the storm-wracked, shifting shores.’ Her poems reflect the great sweep of human history and cultures Crete embodies.
This thin volume’s 22 poems are also interesting because of Seman’s skilled and varied use of line. Sometimes her lines roll forward on the page like the waves breaking on the beaches surrounding Crete such as in ‘I Am Making No Money’:

                                           just riding the days from dawn till dusk, I check
                                 the weather, what the waves will bring with them, the changing
                          complexion of a sky, frayed with rain, now washed

Other times, they a thinner but more solid, such as in this excerpt of her concrete poem entitled ‘Building a Wall’

                                                   Rock white
                                                 in the shadow


                                                   even the sea


      These lyrical poems also address contemporary concerns such as climate change and refugees. Furthermore, on the Acknowledgments page, the author also indicates that ‘All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Medical Volunteers International, an organization offering medical help to refugees worldwide.’ Ariadne’s Thread is a strong, debut collection of memorable poems that I recommend highly to AQ’s readers.
      Another book I received this summer was Jacob M. Appel’s new crime novel, Shaving with Occam. It is narrated by protagonist and crime sleuth Henrietta Brigander aka Granny Flamingo, a homeless, and frequent ‘guest’ at New York’s Mount Hebron Hospital’s walk in, night psychiatric ward. I can assure you as a former Magill-Rhoads freshman scholar to Haverford College, where I studied for only one year, due the withdrawal of my parents’ financial support, I completely understand Henrietta’s descent into madness after she had to leave Bryn Mawr due to the simultaneous sinking of her grandfather’s yacht and the loss of the family fortune, and later the tragic death of her twin brother, who fell down an elevator shaft. Since then, Henrietta has lived on the street, wearing a giant hat with a flamingo on top, which is the origin of her moniker.
      Granny Flamingo spends most of the book trying to solve a fellow patient’s (now her dead lover’s) Abraham Currier’s murder. She interviews the 15 people (patients, doctors, nurses, and a few extras) who were present on the ward at the time of the murder. In addition, she follows many leads, some which lead her in unexpected directions. She also listens to and at other times ignores her voices, which are largely self-destructive, but which sometimes provide insights. Interlaced in the book are the rich descriptions of psychiatric patient medications and assessments I assume Appel culled from his many years working in hospitals’ psychiatric wards. This makes the book’s setting very convincing, helping to maintain the story’s suspense, which is palatable. It’s real page turner, and I could only put the book down at the end of each richly described chapter.
      The title of this book refers to Occam’s razor, or the law of parsimony, a philosophy expounded by the 12th century scholastic William of Ockham. It states that the simplest explanation of an event is usually the best and stresses eliminating unnecessary information. Granny Flamingo uses Occam’s Razor to solve the murder mystery, eliminating suspects as she tries to find and interview all people present on the night of Currier’s murder. Some are them, the regulars at Hebron, are readily available for her to question. However, others are outside Manhattan in the boroughs of Staten Island and the Bronx, and some seem to have disappeared entirely, until she meets them again purely through coincidence.
      As a counterweight to Occam’s Razor’s simplicity, Appel provides a very entertaining, encyclopedic, 50-page index entitled ‘Glossary of Things You Should Know By Henrietta Florence van Duyn Brigander’, a compendium of history, filmography, and discography to explain Henrietta’s frequent references to her family tree, American history, and Newport, Rhode Island’s Gilded Age’s descendants. (Remember, this is a Bryn Mawr woman who is narrating this story, even if she was only able to attend for one year). Personally, I think Appel outdid William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha county inhabitants and genealogical nonsense with his own rich, crime novel index. If you can’t find an interesting fact on each page that makes you giggle or laugh aloud, then you should check your own pulse to make sure you’re alive.
      After following my leads and a few dead ends, including some related to a supposed NYC Albanian mafia that had a hit out on Currier, Granny Flamingo picks up a 91-year-old, limo-driving sidekick, Nënë Roza, who not only provides transportation for Henrietta’s enquiries but also extracts an unexpected confession from two attendings, frightening by Roza’s erratic driving, afraid they’ve been abducted and are about to be killed by a Granny Flamingo. True to form in his past work as a master plotter in The Mask of Sanity, (reviewed in AQ18, spring 2017), and Millard Salter’s Last Day, (reviewed in AQ21, spring 2018), all the loose ends are tied up in the end. Through a logical pursuit of the facts of the case, Granny Flamingo solves the crime and the problem of her persistent homelessness, the first, through a clue that was present at the beginning of the story, and the second, from a completely unexpected, but familiar corner.
      To sum up dear reader, I can only state (in the style of Mr Appel’s book), What a book! What a Middlemarch epilogue! What an ending! What a glossary after the ending! I sincerely hope Appel is planning a sequel with more crimes for Granny Flamingo to solve. She could certainly become the new Jessica Fletcher and Appel, the new Tom Wolfe of crime novels.       AQ

Bryan R. Monte – Antony Gormley GROUND Sculpture Exhibition

Bryan R. Monte
Antony Gormley GROUND Sculpture Exhibition, 26 May – 25 September 2022, Voorlinden Museum and Garden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands

Museum Voorlinden is currently the site of Antony Gormley’s GROUND sculpture exhibition. For those of you unaware of Mr Gormley’s work, two of his famous sculptures are Exposure, a galvanized steel, 25 x 13 x 18 metre frame sculpture, (2010), of a squatting man on a narrow spit of land in the Flevoland polder, and Angel of the North, a steel, 20 x 54 metre sculpture, (1999) of a man or angel with aeroplane wings for arms standing in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England. Both sculptures are based on castings of Gormley’s body, (his most prevalent sculpting method), and they are visible to thousands daily.
      On 25 May 2022, Mr Gormley opened his new retrospective exhibition at Museum Voorlinden. In addition, he also provided a guided tour of his exhibition for the press. During this tour, Mr Gormley not only described his sculptures, their material processes and his philosophies behind their creation, but also his ideas on art and a few on politics, with ended with a very personal, bombshell announcement.
      The tour began in the museum’s library which includes many of Gormley’s sketchbooks, the earliest from 1975. Here, he told the press ‘Sculpture asks questions: “What can we be? What are we certain of”’ We were then taken into the museum proper and to the first gallery. It contains a sculpture of two bars at right angles called Coordinate VIII (2022). Two crossed bars divide the visual perspective into four Cartesian quadrants. Gormley said that this symbolized the two-dimensional world of drawings.
      Gallery 2 has about a half dozen sculptures and some moulds of Gormley’s body. At the right and squatting Spiderman-like in the upper corner, near the ceiling, is the first of these casts entitled A Corner for Kasimir (1992). This sculpture’s pose is a bit unexpected and frightening even though one realizes it must be firmly anchored in place and won’t fall down. The second piece in the gallery is Over the Earth (1987-1992), with a planked Gormley figure: face down, arms out to the sides. It was in this room that Gormley explained his sculpture process formed from casts of his own body, which is first coated in vaseline and then wrapped in plastic. When the plaster has hardened, Gormley is cut out of the cast and these casts are then used to create the basis of his sculptures, which are made of iron poured into the moulds created from the casts. During the Q&A session at the end of the tour, Gormley said he prefers working in iron instead of marble or bronze because iron is a material at the very core of the planet. He also referred to his sculptures as fossils. ‘We are trying to leave some trace of human thinking and feeling in geologic time’.
      On the right wall of Gallery 3 is My Clothes (1980/2020), a life-size, silhouette sculpture in clothing, including socks, underpants, and T-shirt. Whilst I did not find this sculpture especially inventive or humorous, one I did feel deserved pride of place is on the next wall to the right: Mother’s Pride V, (2019). This sculpture is made of sliced bread, arranged in a grid 23 slices high and 20 wide, into which has been chewed an image of the artist, falling head first in a tucked position to the ground. I can think of no better image of the precarious position of the (starving) artist in Western culture. (The importance of this sculpture was reinforced by the scent of fresh baked bread which had been impregnated into the press’s swag bags in the form of a golden handprint).
      On the wall directly across from the clothes sculpture are some of Gormley’s drawings. I was very pleased to see that Gormley’s preparation drawings are on a grid, reinforcing the pattern of the Cartesian grid in Gallery 1. However, I felt that these drawings should have been included in a space between Gallery 1 and 2 along with his human silhouette sculpture Set IV (2018) composed of intersecting, perpendicular rods, which is not included in this exhibition. This would have brought Gormley’s gridding sculpture technique into sharper focus. It also would have connected Gormley’s cubist structures in Gallery 4 with his castings in Gallery 2. One last item of interest in Gallery 3 is a cloth with a golden, X-ray like of impression of Gormley’s torso and legs, Blanket Drawing V, (1983) another aspect of his casting technique, which reminded me of the Shroud of Turin. Gormley also commented on the works in Gallery 3 by saying ‘This is what contains us. We live in a serial world of mass production.’
      Gallery 4 is dominated by a series of colossal, cubist, metallic, human sculptures (some almost as tall as the gallery’s ceiling) entitled Expansion Field 2, 7, 8, 22, 25, 28, 34, 40, 43, 52/60, which become increasingly taller and abstract. Here it is a pleasure to view Gormley’s experimentations with the dimensions of the human form in purely geometric relationships.
      One of Gormley’s well-known sculptures also on exhibit is Passage, (2016) a 12-metre-long steel tunnel, open at only one end, constructed to the height and width of Gormley’s body—head, shoulders, waist, legs, and feet. With so many works related to the form and proportions of the human body, one may ask if Gormley is referring back to Protagoras of Abdera’s idea, adopted by Renaissance artists and writers, of ‘man as the measure of all things.’ However, isn’t this what got humankind into so much trouble already—the idea of a world created by God or gods with the Old Testament admonition to achieve dominion over all other species?
      Other large sculptures in GROUND inside the museum include, Clearing VIII, which fills the space in a gallery with its atomic ringed structure which visitors are encouraged to walk through and explore. In my opinion, this sculpture seems to represent the world of the very small, the paths of sub-atomic particles which make up our structure and the structure of things, and which, on the micro-level, cast the shape of everything in the universe. However, this might be just my uninformed speculation. (Note: for wheelchairs users, there is an unobstructed path along the left wall which goes around this sculpture and leads to the next gallery).
      Another, room-sized sculpture is Gormley’s day-glow maze, entitled Breathing Room III, which is illuminated by high-intensity lights for 30 seconds followed by minutes of darkness during which visitors can step through (but not on) the glowing frame bars of this matrix making them aware of the space their bodies occupy. Again, due to my wheelchair, I could only view this sculpture from the periphery. (However, unlike the atomic-like sculpture, there was no path around the outside of this one).
      The last room-sized sculpture that we were shown on Gormley’s tour was the installation of 30,000 clay sculptures fashioned by South American indigenous peoples to Gormley’s specifications called American Field (1991). All the pieces are approximately a hand high with eyes and noses, but no mouths. This begs the question, however, why Gormley decided not to allow the sculptures to have mouths. By doing this, isn’t Gormley metaphorically engaged in silencing their protest against the destruction of the Amazon forests flora and fauna, their source of food and culture?
      There are more sculptures outside in the museum’s grounds, including its dunes. There are five times the 12 casts of Gormley’s body in different positions: from folded up and foetal, to ones sitting, and ending with increasing upright figures, the last of which has its head up looking towards the sky. These sculptures positioned in a line from right to left on the mansion’s lawn, or spread out individually over the museum’s grounds. One was extended stiffly over the mansion’s low, front brick wall. The series of twelve reminded me of the biological or anthropological charts of the evolution of life or of man which I first studied at school. As far as his technique is concerned, Gormley said during the tour, ‘You don’t look at them (the sculptures) to see how beautiful they are. There are all just registrations of the mould… (which)… takes about 52 seconds to fill. We are trying to leave some trace of human thinking in geological time. That translation of a moment of lived time. You could say that (this is) the history of making things, whether we look at a Dordogne or a Brancusi head.’
      Gormley mused at the end of the tour: ‘Can we reposition art in terms of our survival, in terms of the history of life of the planet. in terms of our universe’s 13.4 billion of years of stellar development, almost all of which the Hubble Telescope has revealed.’ He also wondered, ‘How can we recontextualize human consciousness and productivity within that story? (The) Materials represented are important, and grounding, grounding in a way with all that’, bringing his explanation back to the name of his exhibition. He also announced that in protest against Brexit, he planned to obtain a German passport.
      There is no disputing that Mr Gormley is a very influential sculptor who makes artistic and social statements with his colossal sculptures on exhibit around the world. With cosmologically-named works such as Out of this World (1984), Time Horizon (2006), and Event Horizon (2007) (the last taken from the point in space where it is no longer possible to escape a black hole’s gravity), he definitely likes to think big. However, what will be the overall effect of his and other artists’ work and their lives have on human culture? Will it change the current world’s despots’ lust for more money, territory and power which now threatens to disrupt the West’s stated goal of saving the world from runaway climate change and thus prevent further planetary levels of dislocation and starvation? Or will Gormley’s iron, fossil-like sculptures be some of the few aspects of human culture left after mankind is exterminated or has gone underground and/or off planet in order to survive the coming planetary, human-induced, global climate change? Only time will tell. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – (AQ33) Spring 2022 Book Review

Bryan R. Monte
(AQ33) Spring 2022 Book Review

Jennifer L. Freed, When Light Shifts, A Memoir in Poems, Kelsay Books, ISBN: 978-1-63980-089-6, 99 pages.

Jennifer L. Freed is no stranger to Amsterdam Quarterly. Her poetry has appeared in seven issues depicting various subjects such as teaching, walking a dog along a road, her mother’s stroke and dementia, and her brother’s death from cancer. Her inventive poetry has caught my interest repeatedly over the last five and half years and I have marvelled at her range as a poet in various forms and subjects. Despite this, however, her new book, When Light Shifts was a pleasant surprise because it brought together many of these narrative threads.
      The book’s prologue poem, ‘Leaving’ is prescient. In the poem, the speaker keeps saying to her daughters: ‘Look! ‘Isn’t she beautiful.’ When they ask her why she keeps saying this she responds, ‘Because / I know she is going to leave’. When Light Falls details the forms of this leave taking. It includes her mother’s partial recovery despite her physical, psychological, and social rehabilitation and her temporary move with her husband to a care centre. In my opinion, it provides an overview of how stroke affects a whole family. I say this from the perspective of someone who has lost a mother to stroke. However, I have never been able to express my observations and feelings as eloquently as Freed does.
      When Light Shifts is divided into four parts. Section I is about Freed’s mother’s stroke (and her father’s accompanying anxiety) her recovery in ICU and in rehab with visits from therapists and social workers, and her mother’s and father’s decision to move into a care home. The different techniques used in this section alone show the range of Freed’s poetic expression. ‘The Border’ describes her mother’s stroke (and her father’s reaction) in sparing terms. The stroke begins as a sort of dizziness ‘while/bending over to paint an old rocking chair.’ Disorientation follows as she ‘set herself down/but found vomit there’ and then a loss of equilibrium when she ‘crawled/ to someplace clean’. Next comes her husband’s inability to understand why she’s there on the garage floor ‘the trembling / ground, the strangely shifting light.’ which gives the book it’s title. This poem is fairly traditional in form with left adjusted lines, written in free verse. However, other poems in this section are very different. For example, the next two ‘Cerebral Hemorrhage’ and ‘My Father’s Heart’ use unconventional line breaks. The former’s lines float down the page:
          opens her mouth
                not her eyes
                      A word
                          we do not hear.
                                Her arm rises, fingers strum air
                      She sinks
                into stillness.
In the latter, her observations about her father’s emotional concerns on the left are questioned by an italicized chorus on the right:
The world warps
without her
                                                                   (His heart, his heart)
At its core
and inside his head, the buzzing—
emphasizing the mortality of her father and his physical inability to take in or deal with what has happened to his partner through the beating of his heart.
      Other interesting typographical poems in this section include ‘Rehab Hospital’ and ‘We’re So Happy You’ll Be Joining Our Community’ in which some of the words and details seem to be erased or suppressed, mimicking her mother’s partial loss of speech and cognition. This erasure technique is especially effective in the latter which communicates much information in only six lines which I quote in toto:
We’ll need
for each of your parents
for our files
because your father
on behalf of your mother
sign here
      In Part II., the speaker discovers how much her mother has changed since she was released from hospital. For example, in ‘Thrown’, she compares her active, pre-stroke mother ‘in the garage with her electric sander/ refinishing a second-hand table, a desk, a chair’ to her mother now who ‘can’t / understand. Why she can’t / understand.’ Here again Freed uses words spread out on the page to portray her mother’s loss for words and her fragmented perception of her situation. She describes her mother’s uncoordinated motor skills in ‘Scattered’ when her mother attempts to collect marbles that she has knocked out of bowl on the windowsill, but instead ‘her hand knocks them father away.’ In ‘Mystery (A Question)’ the speaker wonders where her mother went and if she will come back. In ‘From Inside Askew’, ‘Tilt-a-World’ (not Whirl) and ‘What Then’ Freed describes her mother’s loss of equilibrium and the accompanying falls in the now treacherous up-is-down, floor-rising-and-falling ship deck world her mother must relearn to navigate. Freed’s poem ‘Broken Brain Blues’, in rhyming triplets, describes the speaker’s mother ‘struck by a train, now she weeps and mourns’. Then a little later, her mother ‘standing again, but she can’t walk home’ embracing this characteristic lyric form of despair. The last stanza starts with ‘Feels like the burden to the man in her bed’ a theme which is also echoed in poems in this and other sections of this book. In the final poem in this section, ‘He Stays’, Freed describes the toll her mother’s stroke is taking on her hard of hearing and forgetful father. He’s ‘by her side, leans closer / to hear her / repeat / the best route home.’ He’s not accustomed to being a caretaker and Freed writes ‘how he wears thin’ in the assisted living home, but he won’t tell his wife because ‘he’ll break / her heart’, the final line break anticipating or mimicking his spouse’s heart break.
      Part III continues Freed’s exploration of her father’s response to her mother’s stroke, rehabilitation, and physical and mental limitations. Its first poem, ‘The Occupational Therapist Answers My Father’, describes her mother’s encouraging progress the first three months, but offers no guarantees about the future. ‘Unsettled’ describes her father’s sense of having suddenly lost someone he knew, who knew how to manage things.
          His chest binds when friends ask what he’ll do
          with the house. She
          was the one
          who knew how to turn a page, make sense
          of fine print.

‘Broken Love Song’ describes how he sings his ‘weeping’ spouse back from her sensory overload after their first trip back to a supermarket with ‘its high shelves—/crowded aisles. Its colors, sizes, brands, sales, / decisions.’ with a familiar song from when they were younger. ‘She was happier in rehab,’ describes the change in her temperament after her stroke. Now instead of being happy and active, ‘she quietly seethes.’ and wants ‘Someone to curse. Someone / to kick in the teeth.’ for her loss. She’s also unable to focus, her mind darting from one thing to the next as in ‘An Hour’ and ‘Proof’.
      ‘He Can’t’ details her father’s own disabilities ‘he can’t hear / the birds the phone her / voice, … ‘can’t see words in books the nuance / of her face.’ This poem ends with her father despairing, ‘Never mind I just can’t / do anything / to please / you.’ However, in ‘There’ Freed describes how her parents are able to stay together, no matter how much they frustrate each other. After her father’s walk, her mother ‘… smiles glad to see him again. /And he smiles, glad to see her again. / And she reaches up to touch his cheek./ And he hands her dandelions /from the side of the road.…/before the bickering resumes.’
       Section IV describes the challenges the couple face after they decide after eight months to move out of a care home and to go back to their own home. In this section Freed also describes her brother’s death from cancer. Freed describes her mother’s perception of her son’s approaching death in ‘Her Strength’ and ‘Low’. In the first, her mother wants to stay with her son as he dies in hospital, but ‘Her own gray body’ and ‘Her gray husband’ both with their problems, prevent her from doing this. In the second, her mother doesn’t weep in hospital, but only ‘in the car.’ She withdraws from the world, ‘Stops going / to Group Chair Exercise, /Brain Games with Beth, / Current Events’ and instead ‘begs to sink / into the yawning dark.’ We see also the memorial service through her eyes in ‘Spirit’. She finds a field mouse in her bathroom ‘the very morning her son died’, in whose eyes ‘she imagined … he’d found his way back to her, (and) was saying / goodbye.’
      ‘I’ll Be the Safety Net Stretched Taut, Waiting’ depicts her parents’ decision to leave the care home, even though Freed knows how much they’ve both miscalculated their ability to live independently. For example, her father doesn’t realise that his spouse ‘can’t lift, or carry or clean’ or ‘how much time he would have to give / to rinsing salad greens, bringing plates to the table.’
      The effect of her brother’s death on her own life is shown in ‘Then, Somehow’ when a social worker assessing her parents’ family support, asks Freed ‘Are you an only child?’ Once again, it’s what Freed doesn’t say that has the strongest effect.:

I am       a fish
my mouth opening, closing
my eyes round
and staring.

And already she is saying
Oh! I’m sorry.        Oh
I’m so

In the next poem, ‘Turkish Fig’ Freed mourns her brother and parents: ‘my mother / and father—going / my brother—gone.’ All that’s real to her is ‘the fading of taste’ of a fig on her tongue in that moment. Freed’s prediction of her parents’ inability to fend for themselves is proved true in ‘Help’ where thankfully a hired ‘aide’ is able to humour or to move things for her parents out of each other’s way, ‘saving / a small square of the world.’ As with many creative works written in the last two and a half years, Freed’s book ends with a Covid scene. She speaks to her mother ‘standing outside the glass door’ via a mobile, ‘draw(ing) a heart on the glass, kiss(ing) it’. Her mother, ‘grasps her walker, pushes to stand, kisses back’. It is the closest intimacy they dare in the first months of the pandemic.
      When Light Shifts is an honest, brave book—written as a memoir of her brother and parents—by a poet placed in an unwinnable situation. Through her verse, Freed creates no artificial happy ending. Instead, she uses her poetry to capture her mother’s stroke in all its aspects including occasional acts of kindness and slight, temporary progress in a world beyond both their control. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – (AQ33) Spring 2022 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
(AQ33) Spring 2022 Art Review
Every day, some day, and other stories at the Amsterdam Stedelijk

Every day, some day, and other stories, the Amsterdam Stedelijk’s Museum’s exhibit of artwork from 1950-1980, featuring both old favourites and recent acquisitions, has something for everyone. On display is 1950s figurative work, ’60s Pop, protest, and space-age art and furnishings, and ’70s minimalism, all defining periods for modern art. In addition to the paintings and posters, there is also plenty of photography, video, and mixed media work on display.
        The Stedelijk has arranged this exhibition’s galleries chronologically and thematically. They include the work of well-known artists such as Christo, Willem de Kooning, Morris Louis, Henri Matisse, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, along with new acquisitions by Armand Baag, Corita Kent, Marie-Louis van Motesiczky, Ganesh Haloi, Batia Suter, Quintus Jan Telting, and Sarah Zapata. As a result, viewers can indulge in familiar as well as new works as they view the exhibition, parts of which have been previously mentioned in Amsterdam Quarterly’s reviews of various past Stedelijk exhibitions.
        A good place to start is in Gallery 1.28A entitled ‘Expressive Tendencies’. It includes de Kooning’s painting, Montauk IV (oil on paper on canvas, 1969) with its exuberant abstract cream and yellow bands, but also with somewhat torso-like figure at its centre. In addition, is his The Clam Digger sculpture, (patinated bronze, 1972-79), rough and earthly looking, with knots and clumps of material, especially in the right foot and the toes. In the same gallery is Sam Middleton’s Come Sunday, (mixed media on carton, 1962) with its red, brown, blue, and black bullseye shield on the right and what appears to be an axe on the left.
        The next gallery, 1.28B features familiar work from the ’50s and ’60. The queen of this gallery and one of my personal favourites, is Rauschenberg’s combine Charlene (assemblage on softboard, 1954) with its found objects that include an umbrella, a light, a mirror, as well as a letter from his mother, all covered in a brown, grey wash. To the right is Elaine Sturtevant’s Raysse High Voltage Painting (acrylic, collage, and neon light on canvas, 1969) with orange-tinted portrait of young Warholish woman with a pinkish-red neon mouth. Speaking of Warhol, on the facing wall is his Bellevue II (acrylic silkscreen, 1963) with its 12 reproductions of the same photo of police and a white jacketed attendant or doctor around a man who had jumped from the mental hospital’s balcony to his death. The reproduced photos take up much of the wall space and are placed one after another in several rows, so they have the appearance of a few seconds of film footage rather than a single photograph. To the right of Charlene is Claes Oldenburg’s seemingly deflated Saw, Bucket, Hammer, and Ladder, (wood, canvas, and paint, 1968). In the galleries centre is Tetsumi Kudo’s sculpture Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit (mixed media, 1968) It is a greenhouse with a neon light and fake flies inside which are fixed in place. However, the green legs on which the installation stands were too high (1.2 metres) for me to view the artwork in its entirety while sitting in my wheelchair. I had to push myself up, leaning on my cane, in order to view the greenhouse-like, fake fly and insect filled artwork. However, despite its height of the installation, the different types of work and media in the gallery do emphasis the number and range of artistic approaches in the ’60s.
        ‘Revolution and Protest’, Gallery 1.23B, features a high wall of protest posters and photos and tables of protest buttons and publications from the sixties and seventies for abortion and women’s rights, more public housing, and environmentalism, and against the US, the Vietnam war, nuclear proliferation, and pollution. Among these is Pieter H. Goede’s photo, from the architectural journal FORUM, against mass-reproduced, cookie-cutter, urban housing. A poster protesting the same lack of housing is the infamous ‘Geen Woning, Geen Kroning’, ‘No Housing, No Coronation’, (poster, 1980) which protested Dutch Queen Beatrix’s coronation in Amsterdam that year, and the lack of urban housing. An anti-war poster, from a decade earlier, with the caption ‘My Lai, We Lie, They Die’ protests the Vietnam war. Below its slogan is a naked man with grenade gonads and three, tank turret penises. Included in this gallery or adjacent is Cor Jaring’s iconic photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed Peace, Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, (gelatin silver print, 1969). However, I had trouble viewing the artwork and navigating between the tables of buttons and publications in this gallery because they were placed just wide enough to slip a wheelchair between, but not wide enough to turn around in.
        In Gallery 1.29, ‘Minimal Gestures’, are jewels of understatement and new materials design. (as I suspect the first 3-D printed homes in Eindhoven will one day be). Works I would include in this category include Maria van Elk’s grey and white work Untitled (machine embroidered cotton, 1974), which has a grey triangular area on its right side in contrast to a a white section on the left, and Chavalt Scemprunksuk’s Untitled, (PVC foil, staples, and paint, 1971), which is composed of silver strips, machine-stapled in their centres on a black background. However, one of the stars of this gallery and the exhibition, is the Stedelijk’s new acquisition of four of Ganesh Haloi’s, works, Untitled 20, 15, 25, 14, (ink, ink wash on paper, 2020), that look to me like little, black and white spiral miniatures done in the style of Joan Miro with an occasional green background for emphasis.
        In a different media, but in the same gallery is Nan Hoover’s engaging video, Movements in Light (black & white PAL video with sound, 1975-76). It features a 15-minute loop with changing light that exposes a hand half hidden by fabric (such as a bed sheet). In addition, a few galleries further, is Martha Rossler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (black and white video with sound, 1975) which shows a woman demonstrating the use of some kitchen utensils, such as a whisk and a soap ladle, first in their traditional use, and then in a much more aggressive manner as if to fling the ingredients outward rather than to stir or serve them. The text provided for his piece by the Stedelijk states that Rosler’s video ‘offer(s) a parody of television cooking shows by using kitchen implements to present a “lexicon of rage and frustration.”’
        Another gallery of particular interest is the black walled and floored ‘Earth’ gallery, (1.22). It features furniture, fonts, photos, and electronics, some within space-age or modern designs. The furniture includes plastic, polyester, or polyurethane chairs and couches such as Gunter Belzig’s white, Floris Chair, with its high headrest (1968, polyester, lacquered finish), Peter Ghyczy’s red, Garden Chair, (PUR ester chair, PUR ester foam, and synthetic textile upholstery, 1968) and Achizoom Associati’s chaise lounge Superonda, (stitched PVC covers, moulded polyurethane, 1966). It also includes a white, astronaut helmet-shaped JVC television Videosphere (model 4240, acrylic, glass, and metal, 1969). In the far corner of this exhibition is also space dedicated to Wim Crouwel’s bit-mapped and rastered typefonts, invaluable to the computer industry. (See AQ26 at for an earlier review of his work at the Stedelijk). It also includes a photo of Buzz Aldrin’s Earthrise (colour photo, 1969) suspended in the air.
        An old favourite of particular interest in this exhibition is Henri Matisse’s simple, cut out shapes of The parakeet and the mermaid, (gouache on paper, mounted on canvas, 1952-53). This large art work was produced when the artist was an old man. He cut out shapes to put on the wall similar to what Piet Mondriaan did during his last years in Manhattan in exile during WWII. On a facing wall is Robert Saint-Brice’s, Compositie, (oil on cardboard, 1948) with some similar leaf shapes and colours such as purple and green as in Matisse’s. These last two artworks raise the question of whether their similarities is due to archetypical tropical forms or perhaps artistic cross-pollination. If the latter is true, who influenced who? Once again, the museum guide provides a helpful, partial explanation:

‘In the same period Matisse designed his Arcadian Garden, Robert Saint-Brice and Gesner Abelard were creating painting in Haiti of stylized plant shapes that stem from another tradition entirely. Matisse’s work was characterized by a hedonistic aesthetic. The practices of Saint-Brice and Abelard, however, is rooted in religious traditions such as voodoo, and postcolonial artistic and intellectual discourse.’

Nearby is Morris Lewis’s flowing streaks of black, yellow, orange, and green and brown that seem to create two parallel sides of a valley of unpainted canvas in Gamma Mu, (acrylic on canvas, 1960) or the meditative quiet of Barnet Newman’s serene, blue, large double canvas Cathedra (oil on canvas, 1951) in a underlit gallery with large bench, the perfect place to rest and reflect on what you’ve seen in this exhibition.
        Other outstanding new acquistions are Ron Flu’s, Women of Prayer in the Garden, (oil on canvas 1964) and Armand Baag’s, The Fabric Dealer, (oil on canvas, 1979). Flu’s women are painted in a simple, restrained style which pays as much attention to the palm fronds as to the woman walking in the garden. Although the museum classifies the style of this painting as cubist, I think it is closer to the streamlined, simplified effect of Art Deco. In contrast, Bragg’s use of bright and darks colours is much more unrestrained and gives his pictures and added dimensionality and energy. And not to be forgetten, Sarah Zapata’s playful, multi-coloured waterfall-like construction of shag carpet, To Teach or Assume Authority (natural and synthetic fibres, handwoven and wood, 2018), honours an ubiquitous element in any seventies home. All of these pieces are outstanding and I applaud the Stedelijk for these purchases.
        There are some disappointments in this exhibition. One is Bruce Nauman’s Playing a Note on the Violin while I Walk Around in the Studio, (16 mm film transferred to video, black and white, sound, 1967–1968), which is literally all he does during this video. This artistic philosophy is based on the belief of ‘whatever I do/make in my studio is art,’ which sets aside standards such as craftsmanship, range of expression, and beauty. Another is Christo’s Package on Table, (metal, jute, and rope, 1963), which has become quite a sad sack (pun intended) and now is covered in a patina of dust. As with most of Christo’s works, you have to be there when they’re wrapped (such as the Reichstag or the Arc de Triumph) in order to get the full effect before the wind, sun, and time decay or unravel what the artist originally intended.
        Another complaint I have about this exhibition is that many of its photos are crowded together in the smaller, peripheral galleries. It’s hard to take them in with so many of them mounted on the walls so close together. I felt I did not have enough room to back up and appreciate them properly.
        Further criticisms I have of this exhibition are all related to the Stedelijk’s continuing accessibility problems, which began as soon as I entered the museum the day of the press conference. The wheelchair lift next to the main steps, (which wasn’t installed for years after the museum opened after its €170 million renovation in 2012), was out of order. This accessibility issue is one I first raised in AQ6 back in 2013. It was then I suggested that the height difference between the old and the new wings be equalized by a ramp that would zig-zag up and over the steps, and thus avoid any delays caused by a mechanical solution. As I have already mentioned, some of the art on the tables was too high for me to view, such as Kudo’s sculpture/installation and the tables of protest buttons mounted on bricks with their deep yellow sides while other tables with art publications and correspondence were too close for me to comfortably navigate between. Once again, I would like to emphasize the need of anyone organizing an art exhibition to place tables so that top of the artwork on is no higher than 1.2 metres and no closer than 1.5 metres from each other so that all can view and navigate between them comfortably and safely. All of this and more is covered in The Fast Guide to Accessibility Design by Baires Raffaelli, which I purchased in the Stedelijk’s bookstore at the conclusion of my visit. I would advise the Stedelijk’s staff to study this book. In addition, I would suggest that in the future, anyone organizing an exhibition at the Stedelijk or any other museum for that matter, view and navigate between the work they have arranged in a museum in a wheelchair from beginning to end. I’m sure it will help exhibition designers notice obstacles and impediments, and also perhaps gain insight into how some disabled people will experience the art on display.      AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ32 Autumn 2021 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ32 Autumn 2021 Art Review
Picasso & Giacometti? You Decide

Picasso-Giacometti, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, the Netherlands, 16 October 2021 to 13 February 2022

A must-see this winter is the Picasso-Giacometti exhibition at Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, the Netherlands, through 13 February 2022. The thesis of this exhibition is that Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti had a lifelong influence on each other’s art after their meeting in Paris in 1922. The exhibition tries to prove its point due to the direct comparison of the two men’s painting and sculptures through their realistic, cubist, surrealist and again realistic periods sometimes side by side in its seven galleries. Did they influence each other in their sculpture and painting? Yes, at least during the 1920s and ’30s. Was this influence lifelong? I’m not sure. However, I’m not an art historian, so I can only offer a layman’s opinion. You can visit the exhibition, take in its generous selection of sculptures and paintings, and form your own opinion.
      According to museum director Suzanne Swarts, the Picasso-Giacometti exhibition is organized historically and thematically into similar eras. Each gallery has work by the two artists, sometimes side-by-side, to prove the exhibition’s point of the two artists’ life-long influence on each other. It’s a formula followed in Paris and Doha, and now Wassenaar, just outside of The Hague, this travelling exhibition’s third stop.
      The exhibition begins with two self-portraits of the artists at the same age but of course from different years: Giacometti from 1920 using Cézannesque, late impressionist colour dabs (as if applied with a sponge, however, and not with Cézanne’s characteristic knifeblade-like application), and Picasso from 1902 in his famous Blue Period.
      Published photographs of these two self-portraits don’t do them justice compared to what I viewed in the Voorlinden. In the place of the rich dabs of thick chestnut, brown head of hair and red-rosy dabs of the blush of life in his face and chest, photographs depict purplish-brown hair and pinkish skin on a much too light golden background for Giacometti. In other photographs, the colours for the facing portrait of Picasso were also not completely accurate—the background is often too dark, imposing, and even a bit overwhelming for the magisterial figure of Picasso, clothed in a dark coat which is buttoned up to his light orange-brown beard which clearly stands out from its background in the Voorlinden original. These facts alone make a visit to the museum essential and worthwhile.
      However, in addition to seeing the correct colours, as a Voorlinden visitor you will be able to decide for yourself whether the two artists did have a life-long influence on each other. Every gallery contains work by the two men from the same time periods, artistic movements, with the same motifs or themes. Gallery 2 contains work from the 1910s and ’20s. As you enter this gallery, you will see sculptures by the two men in a line on a wide table. Giacometti’s begin on the left; Picasso’s begin on the right. At opposite ends, they show these men’s original figurative differences. When they meet in the middle, they show their abstract similarities.
      Another subject in this gallery is the women in their life. For Giacometti that is a portrait of his sister, Ottilia (1920) a companion in size, style, and colouration to his self-portrait in Gallery 1.For Picasso that means paintings of the women who were his models and lovers. Behind the sculpture table are three paintings of models sitting in a chair, a common pose for Picasso. These are Portrait of Olga in an Armchair (1918), Reading (1920) Portrait of Olga with Fur Collar (1923). These, as Giacometti’s Ottilia portrait, are all figurative. Picasso’s cubist wood sculpture Mandolin and Clarinet (1913) is prominently displayed on the gallery’s right wall. At the opposite end of the gallery on the table is Giacometti’s wood sculpture Head of a Woman, Flora Mayo (1926). However, I don’t see a similarity since the perspective of the latter is still fairly traditional if not overly simplistic. The only similarity is that both sculptures are from wood. On the far-left wall, the last two items in gallery are two large cubist Picassos: Reading Boisgeloup (1932) and Portrait of Marie-Thérèsa (1937), which also do not seem to me to have Giacometti corollaries in the same gallery and are also from a different time period.
      However, Gallery 3 does seem to have the most paintings and/or sculptures paired with common referents. Picasso’s wire and sheet metal sculpture Figure (1928) is similar with Giacometti’s Man (Apollo) 1929. Both are interested with line and the negative space between the lines, which creates the volumes for these sculptures. Giacometti’s famous painting Palace at 4 a.m. (1932) with its rectangular architectural lines does, in many ways, seem similar to Picasso’s Portrait of a Young Woman, (1928) a painting with a wiry sculpture of a woman reduced to a face, a vagina and a lower body basket on a beach, which also seems to be exploring this inside/outside structural contrast and tension. The facial shorthand Picasso’s cubist/surrealist Woman in a Red Arm Chair (1928) (with just two eyes, a mouth and teeth), is similar to Giacometti’s much more minimalistic Untitled (Head) (1926) drawn with one continuous line to represent the forehead, nose, mouth, and chin, reminding me of the early Neolithic sculptures.
      Gallery 4 was somewhat of a revelation and is worth the price of admission. It was the first time I had viewed Giacometti’s The Nose (1947). Before I had only seen it in photographs, which do not do justice to the sculpture in this gallery. The sculpture creates a dialogue about space, being, and representation. Hanging in its cage, the elongated nose (perhaps a Pinocchian reference) sticks out of the sculpture’s black frame into the room, which even for a piece of figurative art, is a representation, not the thing itself. Perhaps René Margritte would have captioned it ‘Ceci n’est pas un nez’.
      In this gallery are also paintings and sculptures by Picasso and Giacometti of death’s heads or memento mori. Giacometti’s Headskull (1934) plaster has a much more cubist interpretation compared to Picasso’s surprisingly round and more traditional sculpture Death’s Head (1943) in bronze and copper. Picasso’s paintings of death’s heads on display include Skull, Sea-Urchins and Lamp on Table (1946) oil on plywood, Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle (1952) oil on canvas, are drawn in greys with heavy black lines reminiscent of Guernica. However, these paintings vary from Giacometti’s Annette, (1952) which is more a realistic: a sort of frontal x-ray of a woman’s skull.
      The next gallery, Gallery 5, was somewhat of a surprise: not for the art it held, but rather because the exhibition’s chronology seemed to backtrack one or two decades. The painting and sculptures in this gallery are from 1920s to 1930s. On the centre table are bronze sculptures of Giacometti and Picasso. However, they are not organized as in Gallery 2 with Giacometti starting on the left and Picasso on the right and meeting in the middle. There are just four, paired objects at the right end of the table: Picasso’s Knelling Bather, (1931), and Giacometti’s Reclining Woman Who Dreams, (1929), Picasso’s Head of a Woman (1931) and Giocametti’s Unpleasant Object (1931).
      While the gallery guide tried to convince us of the similarity of styles of the first pair, all I could be certain of was that this table’s sculptures were made from the same material during the same period. While the first pair do describe reclining subjects, the second two certainly do not use the same perspective. Next, the Unpleasant Object is horn-like and fairly realistic, representing a curved penis. However, The Head of a Woman is from Picasso’s surrealist period when women are represented as blobby, non-realistic discombobulations. At the far left end of the table are two rather stiff cubist sculptures by Giacometti of two couples, the first Cubist 1, Couple 1926-27 is composed of two blocks leaning on each other, the taller one on the right. The next sculpture by Giacometti, The Couple, 1926, is in the style of two African masks next to each other, again with the one on the right taller than the other. There are no other sculptures from Picasso next to these two, although there is a cubist painting hanging on the wall just to the left by Picasso of The Lovers 1919 dedicated to Manet in large letters in the upper right. However, this is not one of Picasso’s African mask works which I feel would have been a much better choice.
      The centre of Gallery 6 is taken by Giacometti’s busts of women, especially Annette, from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Here Giacometti’s distinctive style of tall, thin, elongated sculptures with small heads finally comes through. On the walls, however, hang more of Picasso’s surrealistic paintings from the 1930s including Woman with a Blue Hat and Head of a Woman, (both 1939). In this gallery, I can find no common ground between the two men. In Gallery 7 are Giacometti’s striking, archetypical Tall Woman and Walking Man II (both 1960) and other hyper-elongated sculptures from his last period. Across from them in the gallery are Picasso’s six sculptures of The Bathers (1956). Although these are also tall and thin, they are considerably squarer and reminiscent to me of railway signalling apparatus compared to Giacometti’s tall, elegant, stately figures.
      Further chronological and stylistic discontinuities in this gallery are two Picasso paintings The Shadow (1930) and Jacqueline with her Hands Crossed (1953) both of which I found a stretch (pun intended) next to Giacometti’s elongated sculptures. The first painting clearly exhibits Picasso’s surrealistic traits from decades before, while the second portrait includes a long, wide, thick Pez neck not found in Giacometti’s elegantly thin work of this period.
      To strengthen the exhibition’s chronological/thematic organization, I would suggest that the first five galleries should have been arranged 1, 2, 5, 3, 4. Further, Picasso’s cubist sculpture Mandolin and Clarinet (1913) could have been hung in Gallery 5 opposite Giacometti’s Couples sculptures. In addition, Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Mar (1937), Woman with a Blue Hat, Royan, 3 October 1939 (1939), Head of a Woman (1939) and The Shadow (1930) seem out of place in across from Giacomett’s line of elongated sculptures of women from the 1950s and ’60s. These paintings should be hung in a 1930s gallery such as Gallery 3 or 4.
      All in all, despite my criticism of the placement of some of these works and the exhibitions thesis of the life-long artistic and stylistic bond between Giacometti and Picasso to which I do not subscribe, this exhibition still is well-worth a visit due to the number of Giacometti’s and Picasso’s paintings and sculptures on display. I would suggest that you see this exhibition, enjoy the art of these two masters, and make up your own mind.