Pairings (A Review)

Poems by Lianne Spidel, Paintings by Ann Loveland

2012, 31 pp., $17 ▪ ISBN: 978-1-933675-70-1
Dos Madres Press, Inc. ▪ P.O. Box 294 ▪ Loveland, OH 45140 ▪

Lianne Spidel’s Pairings pairs her own poems with paintings rendered by an artist friend, Ann Loveland. In some cases, the painting was done first, followed by the poem; in other cases, the painting followed the poem. All of the works are stunningly beautiful, and conjoined, make for a deeply sensual, thrilling reading experience.

A fine example of the collaboration is the still life “Geppetto’s Son” and the poem that goes with it about Pinocchio and his fictional creator. The picture shows a wooden puppet that leans against a wall casting a long shadow. He is not at the center of the painting, however, which is taken up by the handle used to manipulate him. The handle lies on the floor, partially hidden by the puppet, a beautiful cloth scarf, and one of three pears in the picture. The red and yellow of the scarf also appear in Pinocchio’s costume and in the pears, bringing everything together. The accompanying poem reads:

Thoughts for Geppetto, Who Got More Than He Bargained For

I saw the angel in the marble and carved
until I set him free.

When you said the block of wood
spoke to you, I believed you.
The egg that would become my first
son did the same, telling me—
only half his possibilities intact—
to make him happen.
Pinocchio (cast aside now in a heap
of strings) emerged from your carving
to make clear that puppetry
was not an option. Nothing but being
a real boy would do. Getting there,
he took his own sweet time.

No angel—he lied, broke promises, sold
the spelling book you gave up your coat
to buy, ate your breakfast pears.
He consorted with assassins,
was imprisoned and hanged, was nearly
fried and nearly drowned.

In truth, Geppetto, our children
are never our creations. They own us,
break our hearts in finding their own way,
and if a happy ending comes to them—
no, even if they survive—we rejoice
and call ourselves blessed.

The central location of the handle subtly focuses attention on the role of the author of Pinocchio (Carlo Collodi), the artist (Ann Loveland), the fictional carver of the puppet (Geppetto), and the poet (Lianne Spidel). The handle, representing by implication all of these artists, is at the center of things because with it, the author makes everything happen, gives birth to his or her own creation and those that follow from it.

The poem turns on the metaphor of the author as parent. Despite giving birth to a boy (as the author of Pinocchio has also done), the poet realizes in the end that “our children / are never our creations.” Children and fictional characters take on lives of their own, as do paintings and poems. The role of the creator becomes, in the end, less than the creation itself. In a charming irony, the poem contradicts the painting.

Reflections on art and artist reemerge in “Apology from a Nonfiction Writer,” in which the speaker says, “I don’t intend to lie, not usually. / I start to tell it straight. / Somehow the telling makes things change.” The accompanying painting, “Forest Ranger,” is a chiaroscuro landscape of barren winter trees with a bear lurking among them. The poem plays on the idea of this animal presence:

Memory lumbers like a bear,
imagination buzzing at an ear.
Old details slip away among the trees.
New details find their way on quiet paws.

The bear emerges from the imagination of the artist to become, in the poem, a metaphor of the imagination itself.

The book includes poems about Barbie Dolls, eye surgery, rock collecting, reflections on the experience of people at home as they wait for news in World War II, falling in and out of love. In them, the poet shows an engaging willingness to be honest and vulnerable. She uses language that is both spare and yet richly textured with metaphor and ambiguity as she strives to find transcendence in life.

In one of my favorites, “Love Handles,” the poet plays with the colloquial meaning of that phrase in the surreal recollection of a marriage. The poet dreams that her ex gives her some metal handles, which she imagines placing on cabinet drawers. She moves from there to the comic metaphor of love handles and finally to expressions like “get a grip.”

Even in the dream I muse on meanings,
think for a moment of love handles—
not that he’d ever own a pair of those.

It seems clear that after all
the doors he’s closed—and witty
even without words—

he’s telling me one last time before
he goes, “Get a grip. Get a handle
on it. Get a life.”

The painting that goes with this one, “Still Life with Lemons,” pictures lemons on a table beside a yellow pitcher, a white vase with two sunflowers in it, and a gargoyle figurine on the wall. Bitterness, sweetness, madness—the stuff of dreams, of art and poetry.

Pairings will look nice on your coffee table, but it will not be just a decoration. You will pick it up, and read the poems and study the paintings again and again.

Reviewed by David Lee Garrison

about the author
The poetry of David Lee Garrison has been published in Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Rattle, and several anthologies. Garrison Keillor read two poems from his book, Sweeping the Cemetery, on The Writer’s Almanac, and one of those appears in Keillor’s Good Poems American Places. His latest book is Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro, the title poem of which was featured by Ted Kooser on his website, American Life in Poetry.