Black Lawrence Press

This is not a sky

Jessica Piazza’s This is not a sky begins with the seed of ekphrastic literature, then yawns, then stretches, then bursts beyond those bounds. Each of these 18 poems borrows a title from the greats—from Raphael and Turner to Warhol and Twombley—and through imagined narratives, takes the reader both inside and outside the paintings. In Piazza’s capable hands, the original art works serve as launch pads, and the poems are glorious departures. Through the guided commentary of an italicized speaker (sometimes commentator, sometimes companion, sometimes voyeur), we are taken to a long hallway wherein the reader wanders from room to room, peeking inside. Behind one door, “The ladies wore boas and nothing else; the beautiful men repeated themselves,” and behind another, “You float, no floors, no doors in the office walls, hidden heavy hook of neck, crook of knee.” This is not a sky is a multi-faceted sensory experience; Piazza employs QR codes in tandem with each poem to allow the reader access to the original work of art alongside its poetic departure. Through her finely tuned ear for carefully considered formal metrical structures and rhyme, Piazza merges music, painting, and poetry to breathe new, strange, and modern life into the grand themes that have long given art its universality: death, love, religion, and truth.

CAFÉ TERRACE AT NIGHT

after Van Gogh

The ladies and gentleman, dapper. Astral lanterns glare gaily: the formerly ominous sky, candelabrad and gilded and precious.

(It’s Venice. Or Paris.

They’re tipsy. They’re gorgeous.)

Verandas are paintings for passersby, glaze-eyed, unstumbling, unfazed by the cobblestoned goings. The patrons, bedazzled on red woven rugs, drink café au lait, limoncello, and wine.

(And her? No really…she’s fine.)

Though the awning’s aslant, and the golden patina makes faceless and foregone, a shape of a shadow. A man in a doorway. A man she might know.

(Please go. Please go.)

And the curve of his coat summons thoughts of a lamp glinting harshly off mirrors she’d dampened with gauze. That lowing, that losing. That lowering light.

(One terrible night gives all other nights pause.)

But the stars. The stars. The promenade hours. The weather and color. The memories severed by laughter, its washing, its waves. No one gone, no one grave.

No graves.

Praise

  • This is not a sky, and these are not ekphrastic poems. Jessica Piazza has imbued them with the very qualities they observe in the works they address: each is “an unfoldment,” and collectively “their imagined new lives are more real than the truth.”
    —H. L. Hix, author of As Much As, If Not More Than
  • Jessica Piazza's ekphrastic poems, each addressed to a painter (from Raphael to Bacon), exuberantly shrug off the boundaries between seer and seen, inner and outer worlds. Inventive, oblique, inspired, they enact rich encounters with texture, light, shifting perspective while staging, through formal ruptures, the subtle movement of ecstatic emotion and mind—fluid, roiling in color that is sound, image that is heard, rivers that remember. This is a magnetizing series that allows the reader to re-imagine the painterly in the poem, the poetic in the painting—and moreover, the voices invited and multiplied in such crossings, equipping us to read, after Turner, "the relentless memoirs this river writes of the dead."
    —Susan McCabe, author of Descartes' Nightmare

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Jessica Piazza

Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections published by Red Hen Press: Interrobang—winner of the AROHO 2011 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize and the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize—and Obliterations (with Heather Aimee O'Neill, forthcoming). She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and is currently a contributing editor for The Offending Adam and a screener for the National Poetry Series. Her commitment to fostering writing communities wherever she lives led her to co-found Bat City Review in Austin, TX, Gold Line Press in Los Angeles, and Speakeasy Poetry Series in New York City. She currently teaches for the Writing Program at USC and the online MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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