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Reframing Paul Cadmus a poetic treatise on magical realism.

Byline: Subterranean Blue Poetry

Title of Book: Reframing Paul Cadmus

Author: John Barton

Publisher: above/ground press

Date of Publication: 2016

Pages: 32

"Tightly closing eyelids
Heights; and cloudy spheres
Rivers. Waters. Stones.
Centuries and years."
- from Fairy Tale by Boris Pasternak

Reframing Paul Cadmus is a brilliant montage of post-modernist poetry inspired by the works of American painter Paul Cadmus by Canadian Poet John Barton. Paul Cadmus paints male-centric paintings with elements of the classical nude in fantastical spaces, often titled magical realism: “painting in a meticulously realistic style of imaginary or fantastic scenes or images.”* He painted throughout the 20th century in oils and particularly egg tempera, erotic landscapes often with elements of social critique. Egg tempera is a medium requiring some alacrity, the paint medium used by the old masters before the advent of the Renaissance. He lived in New York city amidst a circle of gay artists, dancers, musicians and actors and his work is held in high regard, collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art amongst other Museums and private collectors. John Barton (Poet, Editor, Poetry Editor, Librarian, Educator) lives and works in Victoria, British Columbia. He has been published in anthologies, journals and newspapers in North America and internationally, producing 6 Chapbooks, and 11 books of poetry and has won many awards, including the Archibald Lampman Award 3 times, a CBC Literary Award, a National Magazine Award amongst others. He is the Poetry Editor of the Malahat Review since 2004.

The poetry is experiential portraits in intimacy and exigencies, the push and pull of the disembodied soul. It is almost as if all the subjects in the poems/paintings are dead and the poems are charcoal renderings, memories touched by sunlight. It is as if Poet Barton is painting disjointed landscapes with words in elements of violence, imaginings that use the Paul Cadmus painting as an edge to begin. Each poem is presented as an inspiration of one of Paul Cadmus’ paintings, the title of the poem is taken from the title of the painting with a brief description. The poetry weaves images and imaginings from the paintings, descriptions and details, masculine, heavy with sexual raffing, the pull outside of open spaces under the starlit sky.

The poetry is written in short groups of lines, with a blank line, that as you read causes you to take a breath. Often the last word/thought runs into the next line after a line break. It is as if he is pulling a horse’s head up, in dressage, to get it to pay attention. This Writer, as if mesmerized, caught at the scene of a tragedy and a celebration, cannot look away. Themes include intimate nude male spaces “The Bath”, “The Haircut”, “Self Portrait, Mallorca”, “Bicyclists”, “Study for a David and Goliath”, “Book Buff”, “The Fleet’s In”, “The House That Jack Built” amongst others.


     Egg tempera on pressed wood panel, 1945
     1.5 x 1.25 inches

Sprawled in tights
On floor boards in a tiny

Square of time drafted between
Rehearsals near the end

Of the war, the page
After page he browses so

Distracting from start
To finish, the spine

Of his book broken
His shoulders exhausted

Foreshortened by the score
He has all morning bent

His essence to, the music’s dark
Harmonies without

Remorse forcing his world in
To step with its own, as

No longer lithe, he removes
Himself, gives in, pas

À pas, to oblivion
Reading himself beyond

Men yet to return and others
He loves who never shall

The precise squares
Of time he borrows

So necessary
So seldom spared.”

The paintings begin at 1934 and work through a progression to 1994 as if a chronology of years in the life of a male liason. Also taking in the years of World War II, the military establishment, the artists milieu, a reflection of the life of Paul Cadmus. Riveting post-modernist spaces in fantastical poetry, Reframing Paul Cadmus by Canadian Poet John Barton.

*The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
(December 14th, 2016)

Available @ above/ground press.

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