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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review of Soutine by Rick Mullin

Book length narrative poems in rhyme and meter do not clutter the shelves of many poetry aficionados these days and there are good reasons: the audience is non-existent and the skill level requires a technical competence attained by years of writing failed doggerel. Many short formal poems that go sour usually do so because of one or more false notes in an otherwise technically sound performance. Think of a violin soloist. Longer poems lose it when the technique and the competence become the point and poetic moments become scarcer and scarcer. In my recent readings I can think of only two contemporary verse narrative books that truly soar: Michael Lind’s historical epic, The Alamo, and Vikram Seth’s verse novel, Golden Gate. Now I know of three.
Rick Mullin paints you into Soutine chapter after chapter. The pace and detail of the book matches the feverish passion and changing colors of the artist’s life. The terza rima works wonderfully, threading you through the densest scenes and functioning as a link to others. Half way through the book, exhausted, I stopped and took a break, read a bunch of other books, and then came back. Intensity sometimes does that.
This poem limns the life of Chaim Soutine, but it also does much more. Sections of the author’s personal and artistic life are injected into the narrative creating a strange texture.  Mullins is additionally an accomplished painter and in a real sense lives the life he writes about. Also central to, and concomitant with, the narrative, art theory and technique seduce the reader into an ever-deepening understanding of the expressionistic art world.  A self-portrait of Soutine stares out at you on the front cover, while on a back cover a similarly expressionistic self-portrait of Mullin eyes you suspiciously. For more of my review of Soutine go here:   http://dougholder.blogspot.com/2012/06/soutine-by-rick-mullin.html

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