DOLIN: SERIOUS PINK
Here there is no
reaching after origins in the form
master plan. What is "first there" is the mistake
we then cover over
in our efforts to create meaning.
With the use of such images
those found in "Ochre,"
Dolin not only exposes the
pentimenti of the
she enters, but also the
pentimenti of the heart....
Charles Wright says that great poetry
contains profondo notes that
swell. Sharon Dolin's ekphrastic meditations on the work of
Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, and Howard Hodgkin, as well as an
extended poem entitled "Ode to Color," are just such notes.
Seeing the paintings is not necessary to appreciate each poem as a
Section I, "Mistakes," is a series of "complex
fruity songs" with
beginnings that seize the reader and endings that radiate back through
the various parts and light everything up. The poet uses a
narrative line that is nonlinear, that is "play- / fully
irregular." In the poem "Objects" the poet explains:
If I could tell you
mistrals of feeling
I would not have to
As prelude to the Diebenkorn sequences the poet quotes the
painter as saying, "you can't see what I consider mistake in my work .
. . ." In "Ochre," Dolin reflects on the reappearance of designs
that have been painted over and on the nature of mistakes. The
poem opens with the lines,
Whatever was first there
may continue to exist
you can still make out
fugitive pinks and blues
saved by white
diagonal . . . .
The poem concludes by saying,
are mistaken if you think I planned it this way
by being mistaken
about diagonal rose
beside powder blue
I hope to swathe almost all in honey
life not as one grand mistake
but as shards of thousands
with time to cover the bruise
play with the watermark
pull down an ochre shade
and let the
Here there is no nostalgic reaching after origins in the
form of a master plan. What is "first there" is the mistake we
then cover over in our efforts to create meaning. With the use of
such images like those found in "Ochre," Dolin not only exposes the
pentimenti of the paintings she enters, but also the pentimenti of the
heart, the "reflections / building up in the pond you're rowing in."
"My Black Paintings," the starker second
section of the collection, is made up of ekphrastic poems interspersed
with titled poems the poet refers to as "verbal interludes."
Dolin explains in the end-notes of the book that section II is a
sequence based on a series of paintings by Joan Mitchell painted after
the death of her father and when her mother was ill with cancer.
Although Mitchell called them her "black paintings," she claimed never
to have used the color black in them. In keeping with this, Dolin
has restricted her use of the word black.
Nevertheless, Mitchell's paintings are dark. Correspondingly,
with lines like those found in "Black Painting #5: Twister," where the
poet refers to "that core of darkness / at the center of any / day —,"
the poems of this second section are painted with a darker
palette. That being said, "whiteness" is a theme throughout the
sequence. For example, in "Black Painting #5: Twister" the poet
only such whiteness blue
fury mixed with reddish
green forgetting could
make a dark well
to plummet all
The poems of section II address the "inkblot of loss"
and the attempts to white out the pain, underscoring the tentative
nature of such attempts.
Inkblot of loss
that keeps running forward—
["Black Painting #6: Clouds"]
Section III, "Ode to Color,"
according to the cover notes, is an extended meditation / dialogue with
poets, painters, and philosophers on the subject of color. It is
a poem made up of a series of moments of attention, as series of
"rosettes" that touch the reader's sensibilities. A Rothko, for
example, will never be seen the same way again:
What's he trying to say
with Red on Maroon or
Purple, White and Red?
Rothko taken away
the identity of things
so we lean
on an imaginary grassy mat
gazing at these stacked heavens—
or has he broken in our silence
you and I can breathe and stretch
our arms again?
"Serious Pink," the final sequence
in the book, includes and then reaches beyond the "steady colors" of
the paintings by Howard Hodgkin to the "mere squiggle / or waver or
smudge or ripple or splotch." The poems are like "giant colanders
/ with holes so large / they let through everything—." Each line
has an integrity on its own apart from its eventual contribution
to the whole. The same can be said of the blank spaces within and
in between the lines. The blank spaces have an integrity on their
own and are manipulated with an astute ear for cadence. For
example, in the poem "A Small Thing," quoted here in full:
one sundazzled blue tulip
stemless almost without
separate petals but not shape-
less if you look carefully paired
with its orange shadow (in the dis-
tance chin-high swaying grasses)
the one you picked and held
before your face for hours
in speechless wonder gigantic
flowerhead of childhood:
the summer your body glowed
with sky and field and mossy pond
it floated in
you hardly notice the blackened edge
pink until you do
Taking just the last line of the poem, the cadence is not
exculsively dictated by the syllables and stresses. There is a
space, an interval in the middle of the line where the poet means that
time to pass that it takes the eye to travel from the word pink to the word until. It is a hair of time
as crucial as the syllabic stresses in creating precisely the rhythm
the poet wants to achieve. In addition, the spacing of the poem
as a whole reflects the theme of the poem as much as the words
themselves. The image of the "flowerhead of childhood" is
interrupted not only by the "blackened edge," but also by the space of
the skipped line and the interruption of the extended left
margin. The intrusion of the space in the middle of the last line
then brings the interruption directly to the foreground.
Working on the level of syllable (word or not)
the poet demonstrates a keen ear for the sound of the language, the
poems throughout the book being resplendent with internal, end, and
near rhyme. In the poem quoted above, the initial rhyming pair of
short u syllables of the
first line along with the long oo,
short i, and letter p of the words blue tulip are found empatically in
the seven syllables of the last line — a line which, like the first,
begins and ends with a rhyming pair. The sounds found in the
syllables of the last line are announced in the first line then wind
their way down through the poem.
As a whole, Serious
Pink by Sharon Dolin, with its skill and liquid sensuality,
"gives birth / to desire for the things of the world / being mostly the
desire to see them." It is not enough to say Dolin's words paint
vivid pictures in the reader's mind, the vividness is piercing, many
times even startling. In celebration of the painter's eye, the
radiant particularity of these poems transforms the reader's own visual
receptivity to the color and shape of things.
Sharon Dolin. Serious
Pink. New York, NY: Marsh Hawk Press, 2003. ISBN:
© by M.J. Bender