Steve Henderson in Poetry and Paint
by Michael Escoubas
32 Original Poems ~ 32 Original Paintings ~ 83 Pages
Format: 8’’ x 10’’ Perfect Bound ~ Paintings and Poems Juxtaposed
Price: $26.95
Publisher: Blurb, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-36-890464-6
To Order:
or direct from the author:

Reviewed by Thelma T. Reyna

Michael Escoubas is the embodiment of a fast-learning late bloomer who, at a crossroads in life, can bid farewell to one long successful career and diverge into another with the talents and gusto of a seasoned aficionado–assuming a new mantle, a new identity, with the ease of donning a favorite coat.

An industrial printer by trade, Escoubas transformed himself into a skilled literary book reviewer and poet in the brief span of eight years. His book, Steve Henderson in Poetry and Paint, establishes him as an ekphrastic poet of considerable wisdom and descriptive prowess. His 32 poems, each alongside a Henderson painting, summon a closer look at the colors and swirls of nature, their blending into invocations of the varied seasons, helping us imagine and discern subtleties in skies, streams, and ever-present light.

Escoubas zeroes in on the meaning of it all. Though each of Henderson’s paintings is unique, there are recurring thematic elements: the “burn of leaves” in autumn, verdant lushness of spring and summer hills, streams and other waterways, mountains that beckon, landscapes uncluttered by civilization. Early in the book, in “Flecks of Gold,” Escoubas hints at what guides him:

          Last night I went into myself
          to find the reason
          I must write …

.         Somehow everything comes
          together in a moment beyond
          the speaking of it. When pen
          comes to paper, flecks of gold
          fall like rain, as if written by
          a higher hand guiding mine–

                    (p. 17)

The natural elements in the artwork seem to speak to him, he says (“voices as it were,/choirs singing their harmonies/ blending their subtle variations”). Attuned to nature, Escoubas quickly finds the hidden gems, the subtle messages one can infer from what he beholds in Henderson’s work. This requires a keen eye and a certain spirituality.

His commentary on each painting often springs from all, or mostly all, his senses: sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste, as his poem, “Sailing on the Sound,” demonstrates. Escoubas attends diligently to his ekphrastic duty of picture-creating, but his spiritual observation predominates:

          let the light above the tree line
          wrap you in its shawl,

          let the cool breeze lift the day
          be still within
          be still without
          be filled with beauty and love.

                    (p. 23)

Indeed, as we progress through the book, Escoubas’ ekphrastic purposes extend beyond vivid depictions of what Henderson’s paintings embody. The crystalline descriptions capture us; but, page by page, Escoubas also delineates connections between the created picture, in paint and poem, and life and humanity.

In “Autumn Sail,” (p. 29), the poet lauds how nature provides “a kind/ of communion where cynicism/ is caught in wind-filled sails/ released to the heavens, replaced by/ an inexplicable inner glow.” In “Emergence” (p. 37), he marvels at how spring “gives rise to something more than/ seasonal change: what is this joy/ within, this deep thing I cannot name?” Finally, on p. 51, in “Effervescence,” the poet declares, “The deepest mystics/ cannot capture this–/ this mix of colors …” in a transcendental paean to nature’s majesty.

The use of personification further helps Escoubas tighten the bond between nature in art and relevance of such art to our lives. In “Utah Spring” (p. 75), the poet depicts Mount Nebo as meditating under clouds; pine trees scent the air to announce the season, while “Winter has gone to bed” and the “foothills take my hand.” Similarly, in “Verdant Banks” (p. 77), “The high/ grass baptizes our feet” and “dragonflies in purple robes/ sing hymns”–attributes of churchgoers–as the poet lends humanity and love to a creek explored by children playing hooky from Sunday School. Casting these natural elements in hospitable, kindly human terms reinforce the nexus between nature and humans.

Finally, Escoubas deploys his superb skill in creating men, women, and children to populate Henderson’s canvases where there are none. He imagines a type of person, attired in a certain manner, thinking or feeling a particular emotion and places the fictional character in the painting. The ekphrastic poem then provides the backstory to this vignette, and the payoff for the reader is doubled: we glean more from the painting itself, and we’ve enjoyed a mini-story in the process.

Such is the case with “Autumn Memories” (p. 13) where a long-absent son returns to his parents on their aging family farm. In “Highland Road” (p. 19), a city dweller escapes the hullaballoo of urbanity and seeks peace in distant hills and open roads. In “Midday Tea” (p. 73), one of the most poignant poems in the book, a young Army wife gathers with other military wives for afternoon tea, where the dignity and simple elegance of the ritual are counterbalanced when they bring out “pictures of their men in military uniforms … with rivers of tears …”

Overall, this book is a tribute to Escoubas’ proclaimed goals in his creative journey: to elicit “emotional resonance” by creating connections between meaningful life experiences and art/poetry; highlight “memory” as a bridge between art and its consumers; and reinforce analogies between the outer, visible world of Nature and the inner, abstract world of spirituality (or, the soul). Through his 32 ekphrastic poems, Michael Escoubas has admirably succeeded.


About the Reviewer: Thelma T. Reyna’s books have collectively won 14 national literary awards. She has written 5 books: a short story collection, The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories; 2 poetry Chapbooks–Breath & Bone and Hearts in Common; and 2 full-length poetry collections–Rising, Falling, All of Us, and Reading Tea Leaves After Trump, which won 6 national book honors in 2018. As Poet Laureate in Altadena, 2014-2016, she edited the Altadena Poetry Review Anthology in 2015 and 2016.

Thelma’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, textbooks, blogs, and regional media for over 25 years. She was a Pushcart Prize Nominee in Poetry in 2017. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA.


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