Providing poetic entry into the visual arts
In Michelangelo's Seizure, Steve Gehrke seizes the lives of several classic and contemporary paintersfrom Caravaggio and Magritte to Francis Bacon and Jackson Pollockto demonstrate how these artists transformed physical, psychological, and political suffering into art. Mirroring the brushstrokes in long, metaphor-laden sentences, Gehrke moves freely through the canvas, into and out of the artists' lives, into the public realm, into history, to capture the way the creative mind can transform even the most violent surroundingsa prison cell, a battlefield, a madhouseinto a masterpiece
This is Gehrke's third book of poetry; the first two won prestigious prizes, and this one was selected for the National Poetry Series by T.R. Hummer. These brawny, ekphrastic poems trace the artistic endeavors of several great artists, including Rembrandt, Turner, and Mapplethorpe, and portray art as the grueling work that transforms suffering into beauty. Gehrke dwells on the horrifically real, from the guts of a cadaver model to the rotting carcasses in Géricault's famous painting The Raft of the Medusato Otto Dix's experiences of World War I. But of Sargent, he writes that "even if he could paint/the blistered, or dead bodies...the white angel-maggots burrowing/into a face, his mind at its core, could not help making things/beautiful." (Gehrke's novelistic details are rich and engaging, but a rhetorical tic detracts: "the valley of their myth," "the bull-ring of consciousness," "the bullets of infection") "the avalanche of his beard," "the foxholes of his eyes," "the wasp's nest of his mouth," and "the jewelry box of memory" all occur in the first 21 pages. Yet this poet's powers extend considerably beyond the easy metaphor. Recommended.