In Steve Henderson in Poetry and Paint, by Poet Michael Escoubas, we are offered an exceptional collection of ekphrastic poems complementing the art pieces of Henderson, a nationally-known painter. Escoubas’ poems are inspired by thirty-two of Henderson’s pieces, the latter reproduced in the collection.
Through the flow of Escoubas’ pen, all five of the readers’ senses are stimulated, as we experience nature’s glory through amazing detail, leaving the gloom of everyday life and struggles behind– just as Henderson strives to achieve through his art’s “emotional realism.”
William Wordsworth said that poetry “takes it origin from emotion recollected in tranquility,” and we are reminded of this in reading Escoubas’ stunning collection. He writes with an uncommon facility of language. Alliteration and assonance please the readers’ ear throughout, and the line breaks are skillful.
Even if one doesn’t normally read and write nature poems, they’ll likely change their minds after reading this book. Escoubas leaps into nature scenes from Henderson’s work, writing elegantly. His poems are a celebration of the landscape, seasonal changes, and the natural phenomena around him– sparked by Henderson’s work and the poet’s spiritual and creative soul.
Many of Henderson’s scenes prompt Escoubas to reminisce of childhood experiences. In “Autumn Memories,” the poet writes:
I leave the car by the gate/ to recall again the white-rock path/ I walked as a boy: / I still love the white dust on my shoes, / the ancient maple’s flaming leaves, / its bark brittle with age. / A gaggle of geese compete/ for space as I slow-walk the lane.
On a personal note, I was born and raised in the Northwest, and Escoubas/Henderson take me back to the region in “Along the Salmon River”:
. . . I feel the bubbly rush /of Chinook, Sawtooth and Kokanee/ their opalescent bodies shimmer/ in sunlight. I lose all sense/ of myself. I’m a twig/ among purple mountains/ the mountains wrap themselves/ in chiffon clouds.
Escoubas’ imagistic poems reveal his spiritual side. Often, in his work, we are struck by the beauty found in the ordinary–shapes and colors in nature that we often take for granted.
In “Banking on the Columbia,” we read:
How could I have missed it? / Love, I mean, given that God/ has surrounded me with Himself, / in the way the river kisses the shore, / in the way woodland colors take me/ back to Joseph’s coat. In the sun’s/ dependable rise, like God, always there, / in the clouds, white as swaddling clothes.
Escoubas remembers many of his childhood experiences with his brothers and sister. In “Verdant Banks,” he vividly describes experiencing the spiritual in nature on a Sunday morning before leaving for church.
As we dip our feet in the stream, / dragonflies in purple robes/ sing hymns, a croaking bullfrog/ adds the bass-note, the breeze/ and trees bid us stay for potluck.
Still other artistic pieces by Henderson, allow him to reminisce. This is a scene in the meadow with his sister :
. . . shoes drenched through/ to our socks, washed by/ high grasses–fragrant/ apple blossoms fell/ in clumps after spring’s/ first rain.
Throughout the book, the reader is struck by precise nouns, adjectives, and verbs that make us feel as if we are present. In “Emergence,” we experience:
. . . Colors emerge, / reticent at first: half-green/ grasses yawn as snow recedes/ in splotches down the hill./ Violets/ take a bow, first lilies sport/ saffron gowns. Everything seems/ a little tipsy as the breeze/ teases, Let’s get up some mischief.
Here is a beautiful analogy in “First Light”:
How dawn appears/ without sound/ on tippy-toes, / like a mother checking/ on her sleeping child, /
Further, in “Dreamcatcher,” we share in the poet’s delight:
I catch my dreams/ on the sticky strings of a spider’s web/ I catch my dreams/ mirrored on a raindrop on a lilac’s leaf/ I catch my dreams/ in the emerald shimmerings of wet grass/ I catch my dreams/ in a burst of juice from a fat blackberry/
When I recently asked Escoubas if he first started writing poetry in the ekphrastic form, he replied: “I didn’t begin writing ekphrastic poetry, but worked into it gradually, allowing photos/ especially works of art, to stimulate me in particular ways . . . I try to write in such a way that my reader wouldn’t need the visual to “see” the picture.”
Escoubas has certainly succeeded in his goal.
This book is highly recommended. Readers will learn about the art of writing fine poetry through Escoubas. He is the editor of Quill and Parchment.
Steve Henderson in Poetry and Paint, by Michael Escoubas, Published by Michael Escoubas, 2019. 83 pages. Available through Amazon or through Escoubas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2020 by Charlotte Digregorio.