REVIEWED BY TANYA GRAE
Coördinates of Yes
by Janée J. Baugher
Ahadada Books, 2010.
Paperback: 92 pages
Pleasures afforded by Janée J. Baugher in Coördinates of Yes are not unlike opening a cherished jewelry box and touching heirlooms within: burnished and intimate. In her debut collection, we find the poet’s European travels rendered through ekphrasis of famous artwork, standing alongside in contemplation, even if vicariously. Art and travel elide melding fullness to each poem, with the coordinates as intersections of experience and imagination—immediate depth.
Baugher relates her journey with precision and without pretense. She brings the reader across countrysides, through galleries, stepping close, then drawing back. In the poem “Portrait de L’Artiste,” Baugher is summoner and empath for van Gogh’s sense of self: “Arcs of paint. Imprecise circles. / The path on which you crutched was riddled, / riddled—paintings, chemical disparity. // The acuity / both salvaged and savaged. / With it: maddened. Without it: maddened. / Children taunting you, / chasing with stones. Alone at night with your canvas, / you sensed them in every color.”
With repetitions embodying his mental decline, short lines add a pace. The well-chosen “acuity” suggests keenness of perception, but is juxtaposed against a social backdrop with which van Gogh had no talent. His world was almost savant—blooming in private spaces, in reflection. “La Chambre de van Gogh á Arles,” another poem about van Gogh offering a grittier perception, shows “On the lilac wall, portraits seem / uncertain of their hooks. / The wood floor, quite worn. The dressing table / (with bowl and pitcher), weary on its joints. / Above it, maelstrom in his mirror.” Once again, word choice relates plainly and the line breaks add dimension. Even to state, “With cobalt-green, he’s painted the panes shut— / the air in the room caves in on him.” So much is suggested through association, but the image is simple and language accessible.
Another sense, besides implied comparison to a gallery, is to ponder a salon, or series of parlors. Baugher invites us in and points the right direction, leaving us to wander images and varied circumstances—creating place—little dioramas framed by a vision and given context. Deceptively objective, the poems linger decadent. In “Conditions of a Woman,” after the installation by Armand Fernandez, we consider a litany of contents from his wife’s rubbish bin:
The used and left-behind, and the man who loves her for it—
he who sees what is embellished and squandered
to smoke and mirrors
a reflection insisting others are more fair.
Over the image she wastes her cosmetics;
with that heel
I imagine her smashing the glass.
Laying it bare, the poet turns reliable narrator, walks us past both the sublime and eroding. With a jeweler’s sensibility, she facets each image, clarifying. At the end of the collection, “Draining West” reflects: “Continent, what have you done? / Awake all last night at a Dublin pub / and today you spit me back. / Must I now know my final destination, / the conjugation of new tenses? / How odd the art of retrospection.”
In mapping her Yes-es—moments when art and place overtake—Baugher reveals herself fully engaged, a willing docent for the tour.
Autumn 2011, SPECS Journal, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL
Excerpt from Shelia Bender’s blog, “Writing It Real” (www.writingitreal.com)
Celebrating National Poetry Month, Part 1 – Special Edition By Sheila Bender (4/7/2011)
Janée is another poet interested in ekphrasis (visit the website for Boulevard to download a pdf of her article “Art to Art: Ekphrastic Poetry”). She asks concerning this poetic form, “Is a poet’s engagement with the visual arts tantamount to poaching? Or, could the art of ekphrasis have something to do with the annihilation of framed constraints?”
Reading the poems in her book, Coordinates of Yes, answers this inquiry for me. As reader, I am moved by the poet’s words into a place where awe not only fills the space between viewer and painting, but arrives in that space with aha moments and other gifts of knowing. Janée’s publisher at ahadada books describes her poems as holding a dualism of place and transience and as using a literal eye that is undifferentiated from the imaginative eye. The two threads in her ekphrastic work force me to slow down, to examine the truths that germinate when we look outward and move through.
In her poem “La Cathedral de Rouen Le Portail, Temps Gris,” after the painting by Claude Monet, Janée writes:
those days of lonely painting. Fumes
of light, air of muse. What did he learn
about the precarious sun, the unshaping
of place? Such lightness of light —
that absence of light — solidifying his work.
And at the verse’s end, the poet herself enters into the negative capability (the capacity it has for holding one thing and its opposite) of the art she beholds:
What lay within this church? A reverie
known only to the blind? Did he ever enter
those portals — the ones I now see opening?
In “The Portrait of Mona Lisa,” after the painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Janée captures the sorrow and mourning she sees coming from the canvas, first from the landscape described as “haunted austere abutment/and a snaking dirt road leading/away” and ultimately to the moment a camera flash from the crowd triggers a mechanical partition to lower from the ceiling:
over you. For one half hour:
there behind that impenetrable screen.
are spared your weeping.
For Janée, paintings stop time and in created stillness, something of the human spirit leaps from the canvas and in return something of the viewer leaps toward those in the painting. In “Les Raboteurs de Parquet,” after the painting by Gustave Caillebotte, Janée writes:
Near the hearth, a bottle of red wine, full
but for one glass-worth. It sits unsipped
beside the bottle. The middle worker,
(wearing his wedding band) considers the wine.
The indivisible union between one man, one woman;
the tools by which we live, the coils we leave behind.
Travel is a physical event and it is a metaphysical event — Janée travels through rumination to understanding when she stands still before paintings and she travels at railway speeds throughout Europe going to see those paintings. Both kinds of travel lead her and her readers here in “Draining West”:
How odd the art of retrospection.
on trains, relished in mobility,
the ability to pass it all. Or to stop,
those days laid out for the living —
from Boxcar Poetry Review: fall 2010 issue
Janee J. Baugher’s Coördinates of Yes
Ahadada Books, 2010 (92 pages)
You couldn’t ask for a better or braver traveling companion than poet Janee J. Baugher. Her stunning debut book of poems, Coördinates of Yes (Ahadada Books, 2010) offers the reader reflective and meaningful insights on how to see and navigate through foreign landscapes, grand works of master artists, and the near visible outline of kindred relationships, both past and present. Developed over a lengthy jaunt through Europe, the book positions the vicissitudes of sustained travel against a backdrop of famous classical paintings.
from The Pedestal Magazine: issue 59
|Coordinates of Yes
ISBN: 978-0-9812744-3-0Reviewer: James OwensJanée Baugher’s Coordinates of Yes is a book that reflects a certain entrancement with the idea and fact of travel. Baugher’s poems take us on journeys, through lovingly observed details of a Europe freshly discovered as well as observations divined through visits to the interior of the self, highlighted through rich encounters with art where Baugher’s imaginative vision illuminates like a column of sunlight in an old Dutch painting. The poems are roughly divided between these two approaches, which, we come to understand, are really one. Travel and ekphrasis provide the coordinates of the book’s title, two axes that revolve elegantly around each other and map our way to “yes,” perhaps the state of openness and acceptance that is needed for a real appreciation of either of these varieties of experience.Baugher’s voice in the travel poems finds its register somewhere between the exclamations of the wondering, wife-eyed tourist and the knowing confidences of the experienced expatriate. On a climb up the steps of the Eiffel Tower, she is sensitive both to the panoramic scene below, unavoidable in any traveler’s agenda, and also to the economic realities of the tourist trade that make the worker assigned to keep the stairs clean almost invisible.Surely the stair-sweep knows
the homeless gather there at night—
the Arc de Triomphe, so stealth
in its threshold. Here, he’s the only Parisian.
His broom swishes deftly contain
our careless litter. Five hundred metal stairs
to see Paris dense in white stone
and the Seine bobs its course….Baugher is more perceptive and thoughtful than the average tourist bent on consuming the sights and cultural production of Europe, and her thinking extends into the tensions such consumption creates between traveler and native. She has an acute awareness of the duality involved in observing and simultaneously being observed, recording not only her impressions of those she meets along the way but also their impressions of her.Of course, foreign travel has always been considered an essential part of any healthy education, but many aspects of the experience explored in these poems would not have been relevant to an earlier age. “Umbilicus” explores the meaning of travel in the 21st century, a time when “home” need never be farther away than the nearest digital network.This altered state,
travel. Rivers unstrung,
reflections in wake.
Jazz on the tongue.
Alive in the un-know.
To thrive in this state
for a life time, crown
of thorns, the blood
I will run through.
And those who
know me know
nothing. Those who
know nothing don’t
have it in for me.
And you, too, travel.
But you keep close
to ties that blind:
on a cell phone,
at the Internet Café.
Yet, home is relative.
on ignited coals
the choice is yours:
to scar or to soar.The value of travel has traditionally been understood in exposure to different cultures, in a certain disorientation, being “alive in the un-know.” Is creative disorientation any longer available for those travelers who maintain an umbilical connection to familiar surroundings through technology? Is it possible to leave home, when “home is relative” and comes with you, wherever you go? Perhaps the contemporary traveler can still choose “the un-know,” but Baugher suggests that this “altered state” is no longer a given.Baugher’s poems of physical travel are continuously balanced and augmented by poems of travel into the realm of the spirit. It is in her poems of response to works of art that Baugher manages some of her most impressive writing. “Die Mutter,” based on a painting by Pieter de Hooch, is a good example, rich in observation of the painting under consideration and in verbal equivalents to the captured light of a vanished Holland, suggestive of a tension between the attractions of home and the lure of leaving home:On a stool, the mother of two, having just
nursed, laces her orange bodice. She
gazes down at the sated babe. The room,dim except for a column of light
from the clearstory which colors
the claret cloak and shinesthe brass bed warmer, both perched
on the wall behind her. In the back-
ground, her other child in the foyer:at the open Dutch door, the sun
baptizes her four-year-old face.
One ankle raises
off the checkerboard floor.
The mother content in domesticity.
T.S. Eliot, another displaced American who pondered the meaning of Europe, wrote in “Little Gidding”: “We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” Baugher seems to attain a similar insight. Returning to America at the end of the book, she writes,
The plane taxies now. Everyone’s still.
renewed sky all melon and dove.
The suggestion here is that the real point—or, at least, one important point—of travel, of the encounter with the unfamiliar in place or culture or art, is a resulting ability to look at the familiar with a freshened gaze, to come back to the strangeness of home and of oneself at home. The last line of the poem, which is also the book’s last line, placed alone on the page for emphasis, gathers all that has come before under this renewal, but also recalls the book’s concern with aesthetics, the sky becoming a canvas in which the poet sees her own sense of renewal reflected.
Readers who travel with Janée Baugher along the Coordinates of Yes will have an accomplished and knowledgeable guide for the trip—not forgetting, as Robert Frost warns us, that sometimes a guide’s first responsibility is making sure that we end up lost in just the right way.
Book Reviews for Summer 2010
Coordinates of Yes
By Janée J. Baugher (SAR’92) Poetry (Ahadada Books)
Baugher’s poetry collection, written during a six-week jaunt through Europe, is clever, often wistful, sometimes humorous, and always human. In verse titled for places, moods, strangers, and works of visual art, she guides us not just to the streets, hostels, and lofty museums of London, Paris, and beyond, but takes us to something familiar within ourselves: the traveler in all his incarnations.
On the road, the poet is on high alert, for the “design” of a couple’s locking and unlocking hands or for the nuance in a classic painting. Of Pieter de Hooch’s The Mother, she concludes,
The mother, content in domesticity.
The daughter, her back to them,
prepares to run.
The Yes in the collection’s title refers to the state of mind of both the traveler and the viewer of art. As a self-guided adventurer, Baugher brims with affirmation and whimsy. “Eiffel Tower: View of Paris” is a humble, respectful ode to a stair-sweep. She even manages to cast the Mona Lisa in a refreshing light, and a poem about an Alberto Giacometti figurine is itself, on the page, tall and emaciated. Savored as travelogue, the verse deftly distills the wanderer’s spirit in lines like these, the conclusion of “Border Crossing: France/Switzerland”:
…The irrepressible stars,
quite recognizable above
the road at my back
Many of us have been there and will take flight again. These poems remind us how travel nurtures the soul. ~Susan Seligson
from Bostonia: Boston University Alumni magazine
LIBRARY THING (www. librarything.com):
Janee Baugher’s poems are often like soft musical lines where the time signature is always bending. But occasionally, the magnet of the muse pulls concretely as in the case when she illustrates the shelves of jars in “Middle Ages Apothecary’s Room. in Earthenware”:
“vanille______poudre de camomille_____ poudre de…
citrate de fer_ poudre de roses de provin_ gomme…”
There is a narrative whole in the organization of these poems. The whole is fashioned by the three principle sources of material: 1) Poems created in the womb of those transfixing moments face to face with the art ; 2) Poems largely responsible for the narrative scaffolding arising as she journeys from gallery to gallery, buffeted by unexpected encounters; and 3) Pastiches in response to “Through the Looking Glass”. This last category gives the reader hints into how this poet goes about the task of “seeing” and performing her craft.
One of the scaffolding poems is entitled, “Salt Specks in my Lap, Pepper on the Run”. The poet describes her self-medication during a train ride. Her caesuric lines portray well the breaks in her thoughts, the distraction of a swollen throat, the vibration and clack of the rails.
In “Portrait de L’Artiste”, Baugher left-justifies the first line of each stanza providing strong demarcation of ideas and what develops is a punctuation of the motion and violence of and beyond the painting:
“The cool hues overtaking, oscillating. | As you scrutinized the looking glass, |” (and in another stanza) “The acuity | both salvaged and savaged |”
Finally, the poet has made a gallery available of the art works which she is covering. The poems easily stand on their own, but after a number of readings, I did access this gallery. If you have an old monitor as do I, some of the images may not reveal all that is referenced in the poems, and you may wish to do a google images search for a few of these works and thus you may come upon a sharper rendition of a particular work. ( )
paquetd10 | Apr 30, 2011 |
Good Reads (www.goodreads.com):
Larry St rated it:
“As an amateur poetry writer, extensive international traveler and lover of paintings, I most strongly recommend Janee Baugher’s Coordinates of Yes poetry collection to advanced, as well as beginner, writers and readers. You will appreciate, enjoy and benefit from her poetic endeavor based upon her recent travel to Europe.
Janee’s poetry is well-written, descriptive and understandable in ways many can and will be able to relate in their own lives and experiences. I especially as an amateur poetry writer, extensive international traveler and lover of paintings, I most strongly recommend Janee Baugher’s Coordinates of Yes poetry collection to advanced, as well as beginner, writers and readers. You will appreciate, enjoy and benefit from her poetic endeavor based upon her recent travel to Europe.
Janee’s poetry is well-written, descriptive and understandable in ways many can and will be able to relate in their own lives and experiences. I especially loved her description of paintings, where she very adeptly uses words and poetry as her creative brush to paint accurate, detailed and perceptive pictures, which the mind can clearly see. Her word pictures come to life as she shows us how to “see” and to “feel” in many ways. For me, the paintings she describes literally come to life. She makes me want to delve behind the canvas to more deeply understand these people, objects and scenes. What a precious gift she gives us in this wonderful poetry.
I often feel that poetry is not written well enough for the majority of readers to read, understand, enjoy, apply to their lives, read more poetry or perhaps start writing poetry. In my humble opinion, Janee Baugher’s poetry and writing will accomplish these for her readers.
I also love her poems that talk about relationships, love, feelings, departures, etc. These are written with sensitive emotions, feelings, thoughtfulness and love. I feel she expresses these so effectively, efficiently and successfully because she has lived these. Now she speaks for everyone who has experienced some or all, as well as for those who shall in the future. She makes me “see” and “feel” as if I were there as an active participant. Those who are writers, whether beginning or advanced, can better learn how to express such important characteristics from her style. As I read each poem, I underlined many words, phrases and lines that particularly struck me.
As an extensive national and international traveler, I am very moved by her travel descriptions and adventures. Her poems resonant with my own experiences of people, places and things over my 63 years.
I wish Janee Baugher the best success with her first poetic venture and now anxiously await her next adventure for us all to share and enjoy. Janee, you have most certainly enriched my life and helped make me an even better poet. Your special gift of writing is very much appreciated and will also be by those so fortunate to read your collection.”
Portland Review (Issue 56, Volume 3):
[Reviewed by Wendy Fox] Coördinates of Yes, poet Janée J. Baugher’s debut full-length work, is a collection of poems in the tradition of ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a rhetorical tradition that dates to Plato—at its most basic, it is the graphic description of visual works of art. What is important about Baugher’s collection is not only how well she executes on the form, but also how easily her poems exist outside of it: readers who have seen some of the subjects of these poems will experience a stab of recognition; readers who have not will want to.
Opening with a poem about flying to Europe from North American (Over the Atlantic now, between / plummet and sigh: noctilucent clouds / perfect streak of sun-let, / the unveiling of day) and closing with a trip through American customs (Yes, OK, he is asking / about the contents of my pack: / a stolen wine key, a mousetrap / with goat cheese and blood / still crusted in the spring), Coördinates of Yes uses the structure of travel to give the collection shape. The sense of time and distance lends real weight in what could be, handled by a less skilled writer, a book that is simply a descriptive travelogue.
Poems with titles like “Painted on the Window, the Words ‘Tabac’ and ‘Bar’ Spread Inverted on the Table Inside,” “After Meeting an American Artist in Paris Who Hadn’t Bathed Since Thursday,” and “Berlin Wall Museum” give readers a sense of Baugher’s approach—her writing is spare and keen. The combination of free verse, prose, and highly structured poems show a writer who has a deep mastery and sophisticated understanding of language and form.
Coördinates of Yes stands without the trappings of the genre. From her “peppercorn skies” to her “buttercup sheets,” Janée J. Baugher’s voice in contemporary poetry is one well worth considering.
Janée knows how to snap a moment into focus, without condescending, on behalf of her readers. Her interest in what happens when a poet lets the world speak for itself inhabits large swaths here; each page benefits from it. These felt to me like steady poems in a moving world, or like reliably still reports from travel’s manic introspection. I was enchanted reading Coördinates of Yes. It’s honest and intimate without ever becoming precious, and it gives us the self without the usual indulgence. There’s an unusual, and refreshing, sincerity in these poems, from a poet who has stripped herself of cynicism. – David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars and The Other
Though they traverse European landscape, these dense, rich poems are voyages as Baudelaire inscribed the term: journeys to the interior. Baugher conducts us through a paradis artificiel where art is the window to journeys within. A stunning début collection. – Peter Cooley, author of The Van Gogh Notebook and Divine Margins
If, as Wallace Stevens said, “the greatest poverty is not to live in the physical world,” Janée Baugher is, indeed, a rich woman. Whether she is regarding a work of art or a landscape seen in “the altered state [of] travel,” Baugher is keenly observant, almost “walking on eyes,” while simultaneously aware that “It is only with one’s heart that one can see.” Coördinates of Yes is an impressive début collection. – Grace Bauer, author of Beholding Eye and Retreats & Recognitions
May you have the great fortune to read Coördinates of Yes on an eastbound transatlantic flight as I’ve just done. This book is an exquisite poetic guide through cemeteries and village spires, 2 a.m. city streets, sunflower fields, derelict hotels, young loves, sea cliffs, and work after work of articulate art, an old world made new by Baugher’s insightful gaze, deftness of phrasing, and companionable spirit. – Jonathan Johnson, author of Mastodon, 80% Complete and In the Land We Imagined Ourselves
In reading Coördinates of Yes, one encounters an alchemy of images, surprising textures, and an alluring contemplative spirit that announces Baugher’s joy simply in making language sing beyond mere observation and description. Through her travels, both imagined and real, one realizes an evolving, stark cosmopolitanism in Janée’s language inventions. I am thrilled by her elegant utterances and animated insights in poem after poem. – Major Jackson, author of Hoops and Leaving Saturn
The Swiss painter Paul Klee famously said in his notebooks, “One eye sees, the other feels.” These lapidary ekphrastic renderings by Janée Baugher take Klee to heart. Braiding sensory pleasures with meticulous observation, she fully succeeds in transporting us to places previously un-sensed and unseen. Here is a garden of depths and delights. – Jeffrey Levine, Publisher, Tupelo Press, and author of Rumor of Cortez and Mortal, Everlasting