Barbara Crooker’s newest book of poetry, Les Fauves, begins and ends in the colorful world of Paris with the “wild beast” painters of the Fauvist movement. In the book’s opening epigraph, Crooker quotes the artist Matisse. “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
In the same way, Crooker throws herself into these often passionate, sometimes humorous, always thought-provoking poems. She takes us with her.
As with the best ekphrastic poems – poems which write about art – these vivid responses link past and present. The bold lines of the early twentieth century intersect Crooker’s travels, marriage, and friendships. Her images lead us from Paris to Pennsylvania, from baguettes to Facebook, from the living to the dead. In viewing these artists, Crooker muses, “paint/has stopped time in its blue/and gold tracks. And these flowers keep unfolding”—and elsewhere “The whole world dissolves around these edges,/would melt, if you’d let it.”
Yes, but in both painting and poem, the universe also becomes more focused. Crooker reconnects us to ourselves and to each other. “The body,” the poet reminds us, “is a field of stars,” and we can see beyond the painting. “If happiness is a color,/” she proclaims, “let it be tactile, tangible, something I can eat with a spoon,” and we can touch and taste joy.
In the book’s middle sections, the poet moves further beyond paint and canvas toward other passions: gardening, grammar, faith, and politics. In one poem, Christ is “not so much a fan of men in white sheets, gun racks, the Stars and Bars, but he’s Jesus, so/he loves them anyway.” In another, Crooker echoes the 17th century poet John Donne “flatten my heart, three-personned God, teach me how to listen/above the rhetoric…the static on the Internet.”
In poems on malapropisms, apostrophes, and palindromes, Crooker has us howling. The next moment, she hits us with poems on love and loss.
She gives us sex after sixty. And she keeps dousing us with color. “I want a new heart, one that’s red/and full of flight, like this bird/that’s singing outside my window,/the one whose only song/is thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Throughout, she brings us back to the bright gardens of her Fogelsville, Pennsylvania home and the sharp shapes of the Fauvism painters. Like me, perhaps you, too, will echo, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
"Les Fauves" is written by Barbara Crooker and published by C & R Press. Reviewer Marjorie Maddox is an author and a professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University.