Artscapes is a 77-page collection of ekphrastic poems that dazzle with vivid imagery and expert wordplay. Lee Woodman has chosen to explore works from major museums, including The National Gallery, MOMA, The Guggenheim, The Prado, and the Louvre. Woodman invites readers to walk into paintings, enter worlds triggered by sculpture, and eavesdrop on conversations with artists. She will take you to a roaring boxing ring in Washington D.C., a cave in Indonesia with forty-thousand-year-old paintings, and a harem’s den in Algiers. All is possible in poetry. Information about each artwork allows readers to look at the works online while reading poems that offer a refreshing and provocative examination of the art.
Woodman tends toward free verse, but each selection is as unique as the different works being explored. She approaches each with appreciation and compassion, such as her personification of Rothko’s Untitled, 1955, angry that it should remain nameless as that is no way to treat a friend— “ochre-brown, black mouth screaming.// The shout so loud, it blurs the lips,/ a forehead turns dark red in fury.” Woodman’s tone is often bittersweet or tinged with sadness while she illuminates the fleeting nature of some of her subjects, lamenting that not even seemingly sacred statues are immune to change in “Too Young To Understand”: “He’s condemned to storage/ Weakened in isolation/Bronze shoulders worn by touches/ Messages lost in his lungs.”
Woodman often weaves complex metaphors throughout the poems, though at times they edge into the complicated, making it a challenge to untangle them. Despite some meandering, she concocts vivid stories that invite readers into each piece and its history and impact, even bringing to life women inspired by ancient cave paintings. Though the imagery can be reductive—Chagall’s Paris through the Windows is boiled down to “swaths of vermilion, streaks of royal blue, icy white shafts”—this collection is full of memorable symbolism, thought-provoking insight, and deep engagement with the power of art.
Takeaway: A heartfelt exploration of great works of art that imparts a new layer to each storied work.
Great for fans of: Paisley Rekdal’s When It Is Over It Will Be Over, Sarah L. Thomson’s Imagine a Place.
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