FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
BOOK REVIEWAPRIL 2013
Rivering by Dean Kostos
Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC, 2012)
Reviewed by Ilka Scobie
What fires burn green
emerging from the lint of winter?
. . .
What snowy words unravel
from white kimonos, only then to melt?
Dean Kostos, "Words Unravel"
An amplified blaze of color ignites Dean Kostos' latest incandescent collection, "Rivering." Evoking his early childhood photographs and moving on to foreign shores, the poet poignantly salutes teenage suburban angst and moves on to celebrate eclectic artistic endeavors. A river of memory, travel, and art history rushes and flows through these powerful, provocative poems. Divided into three parts, "Rivering" takes the reader on a mystical journey.
Inspiration transmutes to new ekphrastic creations as Kostos, a trained and exhibited artist, turns his eye upon paintings by Bearden, Kandinsky, Gorky, Manet, Balthus, and Bellows. His language and sensibilities bridge a world that combines a poet's lyricism and artistic vision. He reinvigorates a literary tradition that dates back to Homer, Plato, Socrates, and continues on with William Blake, Rilke, W.H. Auden, and John Ashbery, just some of the writers who have extended metaphors inspired from visual art. Kostos creates conversations that address both subjects:
Does the trainer want to caress the boxer? Whatever he
wants, he finds intimacy in being useful
and accepts the role
and gifts the reader with impressions:
Tousled bangs shade deep-set eyes. Or are they
black and blue?"
(from "Introducing John L. Sullivan," a painting by George Bellows).
The poet's engagement with perception leads to startling images, like the painterly palette from "Last Painting," after Ashile Gorky:
The painter dry-brushed the canvas black and gray, scouring memory
and continues with,
Red scribbled: fires, blood, shriveled kisses.
The poem manages to beautifully capture the essence of the Armenian-born artist, who fused European aesthetics with American vibrancy.
These are poems peopled with George Hurrell, Jean Harlow, Walt Whitman, Pythia, even Miss Havisham. Then, with a poignantly rendered history lesson, "Homage to Alan Turing", the poet reignites our awareness of the mathematician and pioneer computer scientist who fell victim to homosexual persecution in post-war London. With a chanting, rhythmic purity, Turing, the World War II cryptanalyst is introduced:
Because you endowed the electronic mind
with spinning cryptograms,
a vernacular of brainwork ---
Ending the poem with this benison, Kostos salutes a forgotten hero.
Because the Apple logo now bleeds with your poisoned
saliva, your mouth crusted with decades
Of silence ---
Because I can love another man, and because this world
all too willingly forgets, I thank you, writing this
on a computer
Brief, deliberate stanzas and precise punctuation reflect a spare elegance and stylistic maturity. The poet's erudition is always balanced with curiosity and compassion. His passionately personal subject matter draws the reader into an enigmatic world of self-exploration, history, and mythology (both classical and emotional). Bridging continents and centuries, he explores deeply individualized topics and simplifies complex ideas with an effortless cadence. Kostos' voice possesses a rare virtuosityand resonates with an individual truth of opulent observation and experience.
Ilka Scobie is a native New Yorker who teaches poetry in the public school system. Her poetry appears in LiveMag, Vanitas, and Poetry in Performance, and her art criticism is published in Artnet and ArtCritical. She collaborates with her husband, photographer Luigi Cazzaniga, for Italian Marie Claire.
Dean Kostos is the author of four poetry collections, as well as the editor of Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry. He is the co-editor of Mama's Boy: Gay Men Write about Their Mothers (a Lambda Book Award Finalist). He has taught at Wesleyan, the Gallatin School of NYU, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and Gotham Writers' Workshop. He is currently on the faculty of The City University of New York and Berkeley College. Trained initially as a visual artist, his works have been exhibited in galleries and at the Brooklyn Museum.