Thursday, March 06, 2014

New Orleans Variations & Paris Ouroboros By Paul Pines

New Orleans Variations & Paris Ouroboros
By Paul Pines
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-933675-92-3
92 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Whether crossing the French Quarter in New Orleans with Dancing Jesus (often mistaken for Moses) or flying over Parisian rooftops, circling the Eiffel Tower birdlike, accompanied by the pagan god Hermes the reader of Paul Pines’ new collection of poems, New Orleans Variations & Paris Ouroboros, won’t be burdened and bent by the linear and mundane.

Pines’ unusual techniques ignite magic on the page. He creates surface texture and then mines it for wisdom using ancient myths, singular intellects, artists of seemingly every ilk, and the wife of an astrologer, who wears knee socks.  In a large number of these poems Pines drops allusions citing intellectual and artistic subjects. I‘ve seen a few other poets attempt this sort of thing and it never works. Here it does.  Pines has an obvious and deep understanding of his citations and it shows. Because of his erudite knowledge they flow into his work naturally. There’s joy in these pieces and a lot of it. Pines writes like a lover enamored by the historical wisdom compressed into his recreated people and places. He orders up a truly movable feast. To accommodate the density of his meditative citations Pines composes in short breathable lines and sometimes spreads his poems over the page in what used to be called field poetry.

The first poem in this collection entitled First And Last Things At The Croissant D’Or opens a universal spatial door in oracular fashion. Poems convey theological information; they are physical scars left over after a mystical connection. The poet explains,


thinks she must be cold
and wraps her in his arms

to stop the stuttering flesh
he confuses with

the winter light
that shudders in a courtyard

at dawn on Ursuline St.
following 12th Night

knowing that where
a god erupts

into the world he leaves
a scar

visible as a comet
or wake of smoke…

Later in the same poem Pines channels Baltasar Gracian, a seventh century Jesuit, who advocated, among other things, a style of maximum significance with a minimum of form. Pines introduces his citation this way,

Knowledge without courage
is sterile, Gracian

calls out from his Jesuit cell
as if to warn us against

what the age of reason
never realized

that the world might become
so crowded with proofs

there’d be nothing left to feed
its hungry mouths

starving for mystery…

Costuming oneself for Mardi Gras in delirious jest can deliver some interesting undertones. The poem Hello From Nola being a case in point. Pines chronicles his transformation,

I dress up for Mardi Gras
in a costume provided
by my hostess

on the package
         “Jesus, one size
          fits all.”

a long white gown
a red sash
a wild wig of auburn curls
down to my shoulders
and a beard
I can’t secure
to my ears which
are too small
must finally pin to
my “soft” crown
of thorns

In the poem entitled Walking Down Rampart Street Pines connects his two subject cities by focusing on the raw portrayals and contradictory lifestyle of the artist Edgar Degas, a very great painter and an infamous anti-Semite. Degas was a Parisian, who stayed for a time in New Orleans with family members. Here’s how the poem begins,

Degas the perfect gentilhomme
at home in Montparnasse

and Creole New Orleans
anti-Semite whose best friend

is named Halevi describes
woman as the curse

of wise men but hangs out
in brothels sketching

the hilarity and sadness
of whores sprawled

on a couch in the salon
waiting for patrons in bowlers

sporting trim mustaches
like his own…

Entering Paris Ouroboros, the second half of Pines’ collection, the first section of the first poem Voyage serves as an introduction of sorts. The poet cites Homer and gives a rather good rationale for poetry of place. Specifically explaining the traveler’s raison d’etre Pines says,

We leave home to find ourselves
says Homer
in whom we discover the first rites
                through which individuals
                and civilizations
                must pass
                as birds singing
        in the early morning streets
        of a distant city
        remind us

then why are we surprised
to find a voice
           in foreign stones
           that echoes
           our own

Throughout the fifth section of the same poem Pines paints a lavish tableau of his own reminiscent of Matisse paintings Harmony in Red and Red Studio. The perceptions move from impressionism to almost decorative patterns—the kind commonly found in Islamic Art. Both artist and poet seem to flatten dimensions of space and time. The poet says,

at the Café Fiorelle
in the hotel Leon

        red awnings
        and umbrellas

        over re geraniums
        red napkins

        on red
as Matisse
might have painted it

flattened under the weight
of a single

         immune to time

Dreamtime merges with reality in the second section of the poem entitled Alchemy. The poet’s persona along with Hermes, the classical god of healing and also the god, who invented poetic music, fly through the sky apparently attempting to decode from patterns the meaning of Paris. The concept is breathtaking, the poem equally so. Pine sculpts out the details,

together we fly
over the rooftops
of Paris
          an encoded message
                  of tiles and

          dome of Sacre Coeur
          blinding in
          the sun

                    the Seine
                    through the city

        circle Eiffel’s tower
                and the polished
        along San Michele

Poetic collections that question the very nature of consciousness—its geometry and by implication its ultimate fate though the wisdom and perceptions of fellow travelers are not books to be ignored. Pines serves his sumptuous banquet with eclectic humor and deep sensitivity. Take a chair at his artistic table and marvel.

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