Thursday, April 11, 2013

IN PRAISE OF A BEAUTIFUL CHAPBOOK

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Framed
          Dawn Marie Kresan
                    Palimpsest Press

If you're a chapbook enthusiast like I am, you'll want to visit a certain page on Dawn Marie Kresan's Palimpsest Press website. She does beautiful art books, and she writes poetry as well as publishes it.

Her 2009 collection, Framed, is a tactile delight. The handmade paper cover is pierced by an enticing old-fashioned lock that invites you in to see the collaged endpapers of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's art from a 1995 book by Russell Ash, no two copies exactly alike, and the book is handsewn, of course.



                  


          


















The poems are about Elizabeth Siddal, a Victorian artist and poet in her own right who met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1849 when she was twenty. She modelled for him, and other artists of the time and they enjoyed a turbulent relationship for the next decade, finally marrying in 1860. The following year she gives birth to a stillborn daughter, and the year after that she dies, apparently from a possibly unintentional overdose of laudanum. She was thirty-three. Rossetti buried her with a manuscript of his poems, but later thought better of it and dug her up to get them back. Oh, those feisty Victorians!   

But what fodder for poetry, and in Framed, Dawn Marie Kresan and taken the story and explored it in verse. In Versions of You she writes:

     In the early still hours I read accounts
     of your life, written by everyone but you. Your words

     few and scarce.
     I am drawn to your tragedy, my life quietly
  
     lived among books filled with passions
     that are not my own. 

The poems are written in a variety of forms. Many of the poems are in couplets, or short, lyrical stanzas, but there's also the concrete symmetry of The Corseted Poem and the detail-packed How to Escape Demands written as three prose poems. 
  

   In Rebirth, the poem that talks about Rossetti going after his poetry manuscript seven years after it was buried with Siddal (like he didn't think he'd ever want those poems again? Hello!), we can almost smell it.

     His manuscript now removed. Each page
     disinfected. The stench of alcohol
     dissipating as pages flap wet
     on a line. Still, his soggy poems

     cannot be deciphered.
     Ink smudged, as if
     by a wet thumb.

This year Kresan is publishing a full-length collection of poems that expand on the Siddal/Rossetti relationship. Muse is coming out later this spring from Tightrope Books. It will be interesting to see what else Kresan has to say about this fascinating pair.

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