Color and Line: Poems by Carole Mertz
42 Poems ~ 73 Pages
Price: $16.00
Publisher: Kelsay Books
ISBN: 978-1-952326-80-6
To Order: Color and Line (9781952326806): Mertz, Carole: Books

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

E. E. Cummings, one of the seminal poets of the last century, had this to say about the
role of the artist, “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night
and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any
human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

Cummings’ words capture my impression of Carole Mertz. Color and Line, brings out
the best in a finished poet who excels at ekphrastic poetry. Mertz offers more than mere
“description” of the work (which is the underlying meaning of the Greek, “ekphrasis”);
she invests herself in the works which give birth to her poems. The result of this marriage
of brush and word is a collection of poems to be savored and returned to many times

The title, Color and Line, bears witness to the collection’s content. “Color” represents the
artworks themselves, while “Line” represents the poetic constructs which merge
seamlessly with the art. Caveat: There are no illustrated poems in the collection. A word
of caution is in order as well: There is a subtle sophistication within Mertz’s poems. This
is not poetry for kindergartners. I frequently Googled the paintings referenced and was
glad I did.

The work is organized into three sections: A. Colors on Canvas; B. Beton Speaks; and C.
Syncretia. Each section is introduced by a quote from John Keats. For me, the Keatsian
quotations became thresholds welcoming me into the next room to look around, enjoying
the décor at a leisurely pace.

Keats welcomes visitors into the first room:

       “Open wide the mind’s caged door,
       She’ll dart forth, and cloudward soar”

“Flying Toward the Light,” is a haibun,* in which Mertz responds to a painting by
Lorette C. Luzajic. The painting, at first glance, appears as a hodgepodge of random
elements sort of splashed and dribbled onto the canvas. However, Mertz’s prose
treatment of the painting brings out a familiar life-paradox: “You love its clutter, not
knowing where / to place things, happy in the jumbled environment.” There is energy in
Luzajic’s work and there is energy in the poet’s prose treatment which references light
and color; emptiness and fullness. She closes out with a haiku:

       Molded into light
       Marked for something stellar bright
       Asking what comes next

I couldn’t help circling back to the quote by Keats … great fit.

*Haibun is a Japanese form which features a prose poem, often presented in justified
block form, ending with a haiku designed to extend the meaning.

Mertz uses poetic form in near-perfect concert with the art to which she is responding.
She chooses unrhymed couplets in “Alouette, Au Lapin Agile,” to place readers in the
presence of Utrillo, Picasso, and Hemingway, dining at the famous Italian cabaret. The
couplets lend a kind of freedom and informality to the experience, I felt the

       press of crowds, squeezed onto
       the wooden benches. And somehow

       Picasso revisits, and Hemingway’s
       seated there too …

Continuing with Mertz’s use of form: “A Dark and Rainy Night,” which responds to
William Edouard Scott’s 1912 work, “Rainy Night at Etaples,” alternates indented lines
with lines flush to the margin. Double line-spacing opens up the lines, slows down the
pace, inducing a heavy, wet feeling as:

       An inky-dark place

               pushes down on them

       from night’s bleak horizon

       They seek the limen

               which will welcome them—

Moving into Section B. Beton Speaks, Keats greets us with a couplet from his long poem
“The Eve of St. Agnes,”

       She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
       For there were sleeping dragons all around …

Having read Keats’ poem, I sensed, within this section, intimations of mystery, darkness,
light, and love, of “sleeping dragons all around.”

“Expectant,” reflects these very themes, in a poem about Belgian painter Xavier
Mellery’s work “The Staircase.” Here is an excerpt:

       The hallways
       Though shadowed

       Render order
       Stabilized by unknown
       Source of light

“Lethe’s Slim Threads Caught,” ushered me into the rather murky world of elusive
memories; memories in and out of one’s grasp like, “winged creatures,” now in hand,
now gone. You won’t want to skip over this three-part poem, the ending is worth your time.

Earlier I mentioned Mertz’s skill with poetic forms. This skill is showcased when she
connects an intriguing haiku with Virginia Woolf’s black snake.

       uninvited snake
       slithers ‘neath chrysanthemums
       hurry! bring the rake

Here is the opening stanza of “The Bequest”:

       Virginia Woolf’s black snake had
       got into my poem’s

As the poem develops through six more tercets you will learn about the gift that made all
the difference.
There is also a reference to the section heading: Beton Speaks, on which I
did not elaborate at the opening.

Bowing, Keats opens the door to Section C. Syncretia, with a quatrain from his “Ode to Psyche”:

       Yet even in these days so far retired
       From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,
       Fluttering among the faint Olympians
       I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired.

When I think of the goddess Psyche, I think of breath and freedom and butterflies. I see
and feel a fusion of beautiful things. “A Breezy Cinquain” captures the overriding tone of
this concluding group of poems:

       If I
       view birds beneath
       the tree out front, my mind
       soon sees boats sailing aloft a
       green breeze

       These I
       see as freedom
       to explore unknown sites
       their histories revealing new

On the facing page of this delightful double-cinquain, Mertz gives us “Waiting to Sail,”
inspired by one of the world’s most famous paintings, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boat
Party.” If you’re not familiar I urge you to look it up. I end by sharing the last quatrain:

       There’s laughter and music
       in the air. “Another glass, Gustave?”
       we linger, quay-side, waiting
       to sail.

Friends, Color and Line, by Carole Mertz, is more than a mere luncheon on a party boat.
This unique collection is a complete menu of art and poetry certain to satisfy the most
discriminating of appetites.

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