Three beautiful postcard inserts on quality uncoated cardstock of artworks by Rachel Burgess, William Gilespie, and Sasha Chavehavadze that appear in the issue extend Marginalia’s theme – ekphrasis – and impact. Ekphrasis is, essentially any work of art based on another. The most cited example, though by no means the earliest, is Auden’s poem on Bruegel’s painting “Musée des Beaux Arts.”
So, it is fitting that the issue open with a poem based on a Bruegel painting, John M. Anderson’s “Vice President Cheney’s Hunting Accident (Peter Bruegel, 1565)”. In a footnote, Anderson explains that his poem is from a manuscript in which each poem “assumes that a great master from the past has created a work of art in response to an event in the Iraq-War era,” a provocative point of departure I find intriguing and potentially very freeing or very confining. It is a worthy application of ekphrasis and a smart start for this issue of Marginalia.
The magazine contains some fascinating entries, including Carrie Cooperider’s essay based on a technique from an ink drawing, “Cuadro Escrito” (“Written Notebook”) by León Ferrari, a reproduction of which appears alongside the essay, and art critic Andrea Giunta’s analysis of Ferrari’s work. Cooperider explains:
Taking a brief excerpt from Andrea Giunta’s piece of critical writing…I broke it into words and groups of words that I then placed in their original order running down the left margin of a piece of lined paper…To the right of the margin I set myself the task of expanding the original text, inserting my own subjective recollection of the painting by constructing sentences that included the word or words in the margin.
The result is a dreamy prose construction:
Once jutting forth with proud angular insistence, the letterforms in the Manuscritos have been eroded, sanded into scattered particles that blow in susurrating clouds across the desert floor. In that series of doublecrosses with which history likes to mark its events in time and space, the exiled letters betray each other. Their sad display of exclusive self-interest includes several members of the alphabet – A springs to mind, or, shockingly, S-of whom one had thought better.
Another dreamy contribution to the issue is Ginger Knowlton’s “old men in a sauna,” based on “Siesta,” a painting by Joan Miró (the painter is quoted in an epigraph: “I invent nothing, it’s all there.”).
Merging graphically and verbally provocative elements, Tom La Farge offers “here is a migration disclosed within our own kingdom,” composed of words and phrases from Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne, published in 1780. A beautiful excerpt from Fragments by Pierre-Albert Jourdan (1987), lovingly translated by John Taylor, is quieter, but no less powerful than the work surrounding it: “L’effroyable somme d’un regard” (“The horrifying sum of a look on a face.”). Moriah Purdy gives us “Shoreline Ruins,” a poem containing footnoted lines from the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect of Central Park. Tom Whalen expounds on witty illustrations by Oliver Wetternauer with short fiction narratives. The issue also includes poems on poems, poems on sculpture, drawings on stories, and stories on paintings.
In addition to the ekphrasic work, this issue’s special Chapbook feature is a series of prose poems called “Transport” (“Elevator,” “Flying Carpet,” “Magic Bottle,” “Plane,” “Stairs,” “Train,” “Windmill”), excerpted from a letterpress book published by the magazine’s parent Porcupine Press. Marginalia describes its literary intentions as seeking to “follow the tradition of literary iconoclasts Djuana Barnes, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Julio Cortázar, Emilio Gadda, and Max Jacobs,” among others. The pieces in “Transport” certainly fulfill this mission.