Under Brushstrokes: Collection of poetry by Hedy Habra
Review by Connie Post
Paperback: 106 pages
Publisher: Press 53 (September 1, 2015) Silver Concho Poetry Series
Hedy Habra’s book “Under Brushstrokes”, authentically examines what exists “under” and explores that unique journey of Ekphrasis with resonance and grace. The poet writes as if she has stepped inside each painting and written her way back out again. As in the poem “Brushstrokes” “without a sound, waves permeate the floor”.
Many of the poems explore what it means to lose yourself, then find yourself in unexpected places. In the Poem “Origin” the poet states
“I have no name, no face, no age. I have lost track of my birthplace: a grain of sand blown by the slightest breeze, I’ve crossed continents and shores”
I admire this poem’s ability to explore how we must lose our identity and our preconceived notions about our early beginnings, in order to find new pathways. As the poem goes on we discover more.
—-my edges softened by rubbing against ruby, garnet, coral, quartz, shells, endlessly
—-soothing each other’s skin.
There is tremendous grace and ease in this poem. The poet helps us see ourselves as part of the edge of all the surfaces of the known and unknown worlds. I was transported back to that inescapable sensation of hearing stone on stone, skin against ruby and quartz. I was taken to the place where I am able to let go of my identity and open myself to a new, more ethereal self.
The collection is powerful, providing the reader with an ideal balance of what is spoken and unspoken.
I believe many or most poets know Ekphrasis is Greek for “description”, we also know that Ekphrastic poetry must reach far, far beyond description and stand on its own as an authentic poem in its own right. Habra has found creative and evocative ways to make each poem in this collection stand on its own and additionally jump out off the page into our collective laps. This is exemplified in the poem “Walking Around Bernini’s Apollo & Daphne”
—-You can feel the wind in their faces,
—-lifting their clothes.
—-Frozen in flight, bodies strung,
—-unable to surrender,
—-his hand on her waist
—-is the closest to possession.
These poems have motion. They have exactly the motion they need to help the reader glide into and around the possibilities that hide inside each work of art. The poem goes on to explore the intricate relationship between earth, sky and stone arms raised high.
The poet reminds us of the necessity of our own self-discovery and guides us secretly to images we will hold onto, long after the book is closed. The poem ends as below.
—-unable to contemplate the cause
—-of her change,
—-fills her with its sap
This particular image of sadness and sap is distinct and visceral. The stanza is transformative in its own right. Exceptional poems should start an inner dialogue that does not end when the poem is over. The work in this collection accomplishes this and more.
The poetry in this book explores natural disaster through the paintings, for example “Hokusai’s The Great Wave”. This poem is about the tsunami in Japan in 2011. Habra is able to expertly interweave both the power of our earth, sea and sky and the sorrow that comes after.
The poem begins
—-It is said Hokusai never intended to represent
—-a tsunami, but an okinami, a wave of the open sea,
—-erect, foam curling up in its claw-crested fingers
—-over stunned boatman surfing in reverence.
The stanza opens us to the idea of intention, and leaves us with the feeling of ominous encroachment. How can one escape the image of the foam curling up in its claw-crested fingers? As the poet shows us, the intention of the painter is not always what we think, nor is the poem. We are all left to our own journeys and to succumb to the waves of our own world.
As the poem continues we are catapulted to fall further into the images that are sculpted by these intricate words.
—-unborn, all swept like broken twigs and fallen leaves
—-carrying seeds that will not grow for seasons to come.
—-The wave of the open sea now speaks in tongues,
—-each curve, a threat, it’s filigree lines and blue hues
The closing stanza is where the poem turns into itself, with a plea for remembrance
—-Remember me, I no longer have this beautiful skin.
—-Remember the light that came out of my eyes.
—-Remember my story never to be told.
—-Remember my smile, my hands, my dreams.
—-Hokusai, your okinami has lost its innocence.
This last stanza is quite powerful, and one cannot help but hear their heart thump deep in the chest after consuming these final lines. I have often pondered about last thoughts of those who were taken by disasters, thoughts unheard, thoughts we would want someone to remember. This poem truly speaks to that vast mysterious sorrow of endings unheard. Some tragedies are too great for us to contain, but this poem helps us ponder those, if only for a moment, as an elegy to the words we could not find.
In each page, the images, the metaphor, the strong response to visual art, the sense of motion and the beauty to the endless and unanswered questions, exist and extenuate one another.
As Poet Alfred Corn states in his 2008 Poetry Foundation essay Notes on Ekphrasis “The result is then not merely a verbal “photocopy” of the original painting, sculpture, or photograph, but instead a grounded instance of seeing, shaped by forces outside the artwork” . The poems in “Under Brushstrokes” achieve this and more. Habra’s poems alchemize visual art to poetry and then climb the tree of new awareness to stand on their own, and shine. As in her poem “Mona Lisa”, the poems “sink within the space of an outlined smile”.
Livermore Poet Laureate 2005-2009
Host of Valona Deli Poetry Series