Carmen Germain, Life Drawing

LIFE DRAWING, Carmen Germain. MoonPath Press, PO Box 445, Tillamook, OR 97141, 2022, 76 pages, $16 paper,

Such a pleasure to spend the morning rereading these poems!

On the back cover, Joseph Powell describes Life Drawing as “poetry that embraces the ordinary and sees art as a way to both praise, and make sense of the world.” “Making the ordinary extraordinary” is how I would put it. Familiar territory, at times: Scotch broom, pickup trucks, a father’s war stories, wasps, “horse on a rope in the fog.” But also Van Gogh, Dante, Gorky. This is quintessential Germain, twining her themes together, making a whole that is both fragmentary and lush.

I keep picking out lines: “Only the poets / twine music line by line, / breath of being alive” (from “The Evil Counsellors, The Despots,” dedicated to the Ukrainian people); “hermit despising false / gold, sound of money clinking hand to hand” (from “Choose Your Own”); “finicky clutch, shifting gears as though conducting a symphony” (from “After Your Heart Attack, I Return to This Poem”); “Cochineal crimson / in July, the indigo of August / bursting into sugar among bees” (from “Thorn on a Riff of Sweet”).

Germain is also a (brilliant) painter (as you can see in the images), and this epigraph opens the book:

“don’t be afraid, and don’t try to make it pretty” –Vincent van Gogh

Germain has swallowed this advice. Life Drawing looks at many subjects, but we also get a sense of her whole life, the range of places she has lived, her obsessions, her loves, sifted and drawn, offered to us.

So, one poem to maybe illustrate:

Butterbur (and Wild Pansy)

on a painting by Morris Graves

Pure luminosity, the butterbur, scarlet off-white frothing,
striking and spirited, each stamen’s pinpoint of light

in a skyrocket of smoke and noise, the way happiness
like a festival takes over, fireworks staving off darkness

in a barrage of pyrotechnics.

In a translucent bottle, purple-blue petals in five directions,
a wild pansy poses next to this ballistic. It’s said violets
grew wherever Orpheus put down his lyre

and I like to think because he honored music so much—

his beautiful song—the viola spread its leaves
to open more to listening.

Three red-orange rosehips

lean forward, alert to the darker tone of these petals,
how men prefer this shade while women, like Persephone,
are drawn to the lighter. Still the butterbur catches me first,

stolid in its bronze vessel. How it thrusts shoulders forward
like someone in charge about to shout orders.

But it’s the wild pansy where I keep returning, how it emerges
from milky glass not shrinking, how two leaves rise like hands

to praise such fragile peace.

—Carmen Germain

If you visit her page at Moon Path Press, you’ll find a brief biography, and a recording of the Covid-safe launch (32 minutes!) of Life Drawing. 

Carmen Germain

THE OLD REFUSALS, Carmen Germain, Moon Path Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 97141, 2019, 64 pages, $16 paper,

In November, 2019, it was my privilege to read on the Foothills Writers Series in Port Angeles with poets Karen Whalley and Carmen Germain. Although I had crossed paths with Germain once or twice, this was my first real introduction to her work, and it has been my pleasure to get to know her better through her poems. Rereading The Old Refusals this morning I had a sense of a long conversation about books she is reading, places she’s traveled to, paintings she’s studied. Also a visual artist, Germain brings a painter’s love of color and line to every poem. (Her sonnet, “A Coupling” — a sample image: “your hand a bloated pomegranate” — made me want to get out my journal and see if I couldn’t condense my week in a Paris apartment into something that adept.)

According to the notes, this poem uses “techniques of collage and cut-ups from random sources” (61). It made me think of a surrealist painting. It blows my mind.

The doomed queen is outwardly stately

clustering her subjects by the shipwreck–
the off-duty singer, the glassblower,
the waiter who comes to clear the plates.

Full of elegant repetitions,
she has the grin of an adman,
but no one believes the crisis is over.

Even experts lack expertise
and anyone listening in the hold
knows the flash drive’s concealed in the cake.

How at the click of a button,
can opener, batteries, and flashlight appear.
Tins of soup and bottled water,

tranquil trickling sounds,
mechanics emerging from the pirate ship
like coins spilling from a purse.

Underneath the sea bed, buildings and rusty spoons.
Evidence of so many busy street corners
so many meals on the fly.

-Carmen Germain