- Pale Blue Speck
From a psychoanalytic standpoint, an imago is “an idealized concept of a loved one, formed in childhood and retained unaltered in adult life” (www.dictionary.com). The imago in Imago for the Fallen World is the poetic speaker’s perspective of the planet. To give you an idea of what this view of earth looks like, first imagine a photo taken by astronauts like “Earthrise” attributed to William Anders in 1968. That image makes the earth look like an art object; blends of sapphire, white, and burnt orange make it seem painted. It’s an image that, like what Norman Bryson means by “painting of the gaze,” suppresses deixis: the viewer experiences “a valorised [sic] moment when the eye contemplates the world alone, in severance from the material body of labor.” In Imago, there is no such distance; the poetic speaker’s view of earth includes his bookshelf, his six Styrofoam cups of coffee, and his inviolate baby—all in the context of “a microdot vanishing in inky vasts.” His preference for viewing the world from his own temporary subject position is also an ethically minded struggle for artistic control. What’s interesting about Imago for the Fallen World is that even though Cooperman and Lehene collaborate as poet and artist to foster a mode of perception not outside of durational temporality, they don’t completely refute the artistic impulse to capture and still life. The collection’s complicated relationship to perception can’t help but shake the reader from gazing at an image of the world as a static, indestructible object.
It takes a book like this to remind me that I live on a microdot in outer space. Maybe this is because the thought of being so small and insignificant makes me feel less safe, which the speaker of Imago also acknowledges. He calls the planet “a fruit of temperate space,” which suggests his anxiety over how to stop it from disappearing. “Fruit” is a metaphor for the earth and a metonym for “Nature,” the depreciation of which motivates him to speak. I don’t think the speaker believes that nature has ended as Bill McKibben does, but because the end is a strong possibility, he wonders if our attitudes toward nature can change. Sometimes he’s pessimistic; in a poem that addresses the planet, he concedes that its “ultimate otherness will not yield,” and we’ll know it only “when it’s all washed away.” But I think the hope is there, even if the speaker is jaded. What Imago does is allow the reader to broaden her perspective and think about the world as something she’s part of rather than something she controls. This opportunity begins with ekphrasis, and how she views the poems in relation to the images.
Reading this book, a collaboration between Matthew Cooperman and Marius Lehene, requires that you glance at both pages, since the book’s spine separates Cooperman’s poems from Lehene’s images. Many poetry readers read collections from start to finish, observing the transitions between poems. I attempted to do the same thing in Imago between the two artistic mediums. Sometimes it felt like the poems must have been made from “sighting” the visual art, which is the nature of ekphrasis, according to Grant Scott. Take the poem “Still: Life,” for example. Opposite it is a group of images spliced together but contained in a rectangular frame. In addition to two small images I can’t decipher, there’s a partly blurred copy of Vermeer’s “Officer and Laughing Girl.” Next to that is a still life with fruit, one of which hangs by a string in the middle of the picture; beneath some dropped fruit is a thumbnail of a man posing for a portrait. I want to say that it’s Charles Darwin, but I’m not completely sure. The girl in Vermeer’s painting has been partially erased; the faint suggestion of her face perhaps influenced the neighboring poem. “Still...