The intertwining of art and public life—whether in galleries or sewer lines—is explored in verse, sculpture, and essays in this hit-and-miss miscellany.
Bezalel (Touching on Place, 2018, etc.)—a painter, sculptor, photographer, poet, musician, and songwriter—expresses a range of themes in his writings and visual art. He starts with a series of lighthearted poems inspired by his stint on the Stanwood, Washington, planning commission, covering such topics as community order (“Banners and balloons are banned / Except if your opening is grand”) and pot legalization (“Hold your invective / While we deliberate on collective / Gardens for cannabis”). Poems on knottier topics follow, from grief (“She plucks at the sheets, at her skin, like Job” Bezalel observes in “Death Watch for my Mother”) to theology—(“Are you there? / Are you Thou? / Are you eternally / Here and now?”). The author includes a large, uneven selection of his song lyrics. Some of them, like “Josephina,” have vigorous language and sharp characterization (“She had no milk of human kindness / But a wit that could cut like a knife / She only wanted to be called your highness / She only wanted to take over my life”), but most of them, like “Man Overboard,” (“Man overboard, man overboard / Over the limit and over the line / Well shiver me timbers I’m soaking in brine / Man overboard”) feel repetitive and clichéd, with many lines serving as filler inserted to preserve rhythm and rhyme schemes. More compelling are the many photographs of Bezalel’s artworks, including ingenious sculptural impressions of mundane objects like ceramic manhole and sewer covers. He also includes photos of vibrant landscapes; a shot of a Hawaiian rainforest throbs with pinks and greens. The book closes with a set of lively essays on aesthetics. Most of these examine the failings of postmodern art, which, he contends, “sought to save art by destroying it,” an idea he develops through insightful commentary on works from Marcel Duchamp’s infamous urinal to contemporary performance and video pieces by Marina Abramovic.
The poetry mostly isn’t up to par, but the volume redeems itself via thoughtful, interesting prose and imaginative visual art.