Jul/Aug 2018  •   Reviews & Interviews

Loplop in a Red City

Review by Jennifer Finstrom

Loplop in a Red City.
Kenneth Pobo.
Circling Rivers. 2017. 102 pp.
ISBN 978-1939530035.

If you look in Eclectica's archives, you'll see that Kenneth Pobo first appears in our virtual pages in 1997! While there is a bit of a hiatus after that, there are several more entries between 2014 and 2018, two of which appear in Loplop in a Red City. Loplop is a creation of Surrealist Max Ernst and also an artist stand-in/alter ego for that painter—and thus very fitting to help title a collection of ekphrastic poems that take us on journeys far from where we're expecting to go. Many of the poems here are titled by the name of the art work they are interacting with, but other titles are more broad, like "Three a.m. in the Art Gallery" and "Van Gogh's Crows." In "Van Gogh's Crows," we leave painting behind—or seem to—when the "Crows took his body up to heaven." But the crows leave Van Gogh safely there to come back down to earth again, and it was impossible for me to not see the field that they fly over as one of his so distinctive paintings: "black wings perfect for mourning flapped over a harvested wheat field, wind dragged a sack of winter."

Not only does Pobo's work lead me to visualize new works of art, as it did with the above poem, but it also gives me works that are known in a new way. The first poem is a good starting place, and it situates the reader outside of an illuminated house at night. The poem is "Empire of Lights," and the painting by René Magritte is L'Empire des Lumieres. While the illumination in the painting comes from inside the house, it is the poem that really takes us inside: "Mom and dad haunt opposite ends of the couch," the narrator tells us. "Did I mention they're dead? It doesn't matter. I'm not living either." Near the end of the poem, this idea of a waking death is revisited: "Someday we might decide to come alive. Porchlights will shine either way." This idea of life as a choice really set the tenor for the poems that follow, and I thought of what it meant to be both living and dead and how those ideas might be differently defined.

This collection really caused me to revisit my love of reading ekphrastic verse, but even if a reader is less familiar, there is much to be discovered whether the works of art are known (or looked up) or not. In "Bust of a Man Asleep amid Flowers," I don't feel that I needed to know what the painting (a watercolor by Odilon Redon) looks like, but I'm very glad that I do. Both the painting and the poem are lovely and thought provoking, but the poem gives me an important thread I can set against the idea of the "living death" in the first poem. The man in "Bust of a Man Asleep amid Flowers" seems to be a real man (and not just a marble bust), and at the start of the poem, "he and his sweetheart have tea." But where this poem comes together for me and adds to my understanding of the collection as a whole is in the exact middle stanza: "Most of life is drab, like old linoleum—tonight, again, no rescue comes, but poppies, daisies, and roses sneak up." The flowers and beauty are there if we just wait for them—or more importantly, seek them out.

The poem that I mentioned at the beginning, "Three a.m. in the Art Gallery," is short but provides me with a clear image of the titular museum at night, with so much that is hidden in shadow. The poem itself is only eleven lines and thirty-three words, but the last lines resonate: "Streetlights clog each room, a tomb, alive, until morning." These words go meaningfully back to the illuminated house in the first poem and also provide the reader with the important idea of the book itself as art gallery, a gallery that is well worth a reader's time to linger in (in either day or night) to see where the words and the images they evoke take us. The guard in the poem may be sleeping, but nonetheless, the words will lead us to the works we most need to view.


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