'We began by speaking in our own voices and tongues/ then other voices/ might take possession of our throats, our/ Souls, for however brief or prolonged a moment'. These lines describing the inner world of Stanley Greaves' painting, 'Morning Mangoes' also describe the intensity and inwardness of Laurence Lieberman's meeting with the paintings of Greaves and two others of the Caribbean's visionary masters, Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi. In their language and reference, these poems are utterly contemporary, but gain resonance from being part of a poetic tradition of 'pictorialism' that perhaps reached its height in the 19th century with Browning and Ruskin's poetic prose.
It is no accident that Lieberman focuses on the work of these three painters, for he clearly finds in them qualities that express his own psyche. In each there is a subversive, speculative, heterogeneous view of the world that challenges 'the lull of the everyday', the homogenizing imperialism of western rationalism, consumerism and the market. Each of the painters has his own rich cosmology in which Lieberman finds part of himself.
To label these poems as 'descriptions' of the thirty or so paintings focused on in this collection gives no hint of their multiple rewards. They begin, indeed, in the kind of description found only in the very best art criticism: infectiously enthusiastic, exact, clear in the distinction between observation and speculation. They create rewarding and very human connections between the paintings and their makers. We meet them as vivid characters -- Greaves with his oblique charm, Akyem's combative, restless energy, Ishi's elusive, enigmatic intensity -- and Lieberman finds acutely appropriate and different dramatic styles to represent each painter and their work. But these poems are not merely commentaries on paintings but meditations that begin in the encounter with the art work and grow from that point. Above all, these are poems that work as poems in finding the language and architecture to capture the moment of engagement with the paintings in all its mixture of exactness and provisionality.
The collection is illustrated with sixteen colour plates of paintings described in the book.
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Laurence Lieberman is an American poet with deep Caribbean affiliations. He has published twelve collections of poetry and three volumes of literary essays.