Djelloul Marbrook’s Brushstrokes and glances

A version of this may appear in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 14.

Giorgio Morandi Still Life with Bread and Fruit 1919The other day I was in an art gallery where I was going to host True and Untrue Stories – a reading with Anne Panning and Sarah Cedeno. While I was waiting for the readers and audience to arrive, a man came into the gallery with a bag of freshly baked, homemade loaves of bread. He told me the story of how over the last 30 years he had given away over 16,000 loaves of bread that he had made, and I was the 16,001st person to receive a loaf. This is an incredible, sustained act of generosity. The next morning I enjoyed the cinnamon swirl loaf of bread he gave me. It was delicious toasted and needed no butter.

Brushstrokes and glancesDjelloul Marbrook’s Brushstrokes and glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010) is like that man with his bag of freshly made bread. And each poem in the collection is like each loaf of bread – a gift.

In fact, Brushstrokes and glances is like an art museum, especially in the first half of the book, “A jar of marsala.” Each poem in the first half is about a specific piece of art or artist and his mother, who was also an artist. I would like to see each of these poems in the museum hanging next to the artwork it is referencing. The poems, while ekphrastic poems, aren’t explications of the artwork, fortunately, but rather the poem is the artwork’s dance partner.


What Cézanne leaves unsaid
gives his colors voice –
you cannot spell this danse
of reticence and sense
with the letter c because
it shuts a door in English
the French would leave ajar.

The poems tend to be much more visual than this, but this shows Marbrook’s wit, which often comes through.

BasquiatThe poems in the first part are a reflection or a response to the artwork, or sometimes the artwork is just a trigger for the poem. Sometimes I become so involved in the poem, especially the longer poems like “Basquiat” and “Manhattan reef,” that I enter a type of dream world where there is no text and only images. In fact, while reading, my girlfriend asked me a question. I was so far gone in the book that I responded to her, “What reality am I in?” I was gone in a good way. In fact, that experience was exactly what his poem “Picasso’s bull” asks for.

Picasso’s bull
(Museum of Modern Art, Christmas 2005)

We need a museum to show us
we can unbind our captive lives
as Pablo makes a bull’s cock a loop,

the unbroken line of a steady hand
whispering to the self-important din,
Must your lives be knots and daubs?

Picasso's Bull

The second half of the book, “Accordion of worlds,” is a bit different. The tone and style of the poems are similar enough to the poems in “A jar of marsala,” but the direction of the poems’ perceptions are outward instead of inward to an artwork or an artist. Sometimes the poem even looks outward to time, like this gem:

Among broken statues

When the future started I must have missed it.
Just as well, it has never been as urgent
as the past, which I have no desire to undo
but a grand compulsion to understand.

I know the point at which the future starts.
I drown it every moment of the day
in the torrent of my intuitions, drown it
with ritual satisfaction, perhaps even glee.

I have no business venturing into it
and I can tell it doesn’t particularly want me.
Why would it, half-baked and ignorant
as I am? I leave it to the criminally insane.

The first stanza’s idea turned everything around for me. I thought the future was filled with urgency, but Marbrook is right. It’s the past that’s urgent. The past that’s always slipping away and that we look back on trying to quickly understand what the hell just happened, and often we are quickly trying to undo it. We are trying to quickly repair the broken statues. Plus, it’s only the criminally insane who are plotting, tapping their fingers, mulling, and trying to gain some control over something, and they can’t wait for that moment to arrive. Only they impose an urgency, like a usurer waiting for the next uptick in a stock price or an interest rate (the usurer part is mine and not Marbrook’s).

The Frick

The Frick

Back to the second half of the book, which also takes on a new trajectory – Marbrook being freer. He’s not confined to the artwork anymore. The artwork was a tether on Marbrook’s imagination, though a very long tether, indeed. But in the second-half poems, the poems in “”Accordion of worlds,” his wandering abilities fully emerge. I think these lines from “By the pool of The Frick” best explain:

the finest of our imaginings
is that what we imagine is possible.

Manhattan ReefThe poems in the first half, “A jar of marsala,” are Marbrook’s responses to others imaginings. The poems in the second half, “Accordion of worlds,” are his own imaginings. And now, all of the sudden, I fully comprehend his long poem “Manhattan reef.” It begins with a museum curator speaking, which is like Marbrook’s poems in “A jar of marsala.” ShabtisThis speaker speaks for about a page, and then the critic has a turn for another page. I feel like the critic, and maybe you as a reader will, too. The third speaker is the paintings, and this is like Marbrook’s poems in “Accordion of worlds.” Finally, the last speaker in “Manhattan reef” is mortality. Mortality is the segue from the first section’s poems to the second section’s poems. And mortality underscores every word in this collection, and in the second half there may be a double underscore with the extra underscore coming from his deceased mother.

In this collection, you will learn to “see between a blink and a sob,” between artist and art, and between Brushstrokes and glances.






And now a word about the book. This book is well put together. It feels good in the hands. I like its heft and texture. I like the how the typeface for the poems’ titles are Futura, a sans-serif typeface, and how the typeface for the poems is Fairfield (or a reasonable facsimile), a serif typeface. I think that little design lends to the dichotomy of the book. I would say the Futura relates to the poems in the first section, sans Marbrook (more about the paintings and less of him), and the Fairfield relates to the poems of the second section with Marbrook actively involved. The layout of the pages is also classic in style: “The ideal of the combined inner margins or gutters equal to the outer margin for instance is similar to the head margin being half of the foot margin.” That’s from the publisher’s blog entry about layout and design, which you can read here: Notes on book design, sacred geometry; good sources.

This is a good book inside and out.






Just for fun, here are some links to some other artists and artwork mentioned in the first section, “A jar of marsala.”

“We are all Van Gogh” (page 8):


“Earthworks magus (Robert Smithson, 1938-1973)” (page 9):


“Garden in Sochi, 1943” (page 10):


“Giorgio Morandi (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)” (page 11):


“A government like Caravaggio” (page 12):


“Jeanne Hébuterne” (page 13):


“Adeline Compton” (page 14):


“Artemisia Cavelli” (pages 15-16):


“Goya in iPodia” (pages 17-18):



“Underside of leaves” (page 19):


“Cézanne” (page 20):


“Basquiat” (pages 21-23):


“Georges Seurat (Studies for A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte)” (page 24):


“Francisco de Zurbarán (The Metropolitan Museum, 2008)” (page 25)


“Lucian Freud and my mother (Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, February 2008)” (page 26):


“Pallas Athena” (page 30):


“I saw Mona Lisa once” (page 32):


“Picasso’s bull” (page 33):


“Pierre Bonnard’s late interiors” (page 34):


“Manhattan reef” (pages 35-40):


“Never is (Han van Meegeren, 1889-1947, art forger)” (page 41):



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Material Matters

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

Enter your email address to subscribe to The Line Break and receive email notifications of new posts.

Join 3,113 other followers
November 2010


The Line Break Tweets

%d bloggers like this: