Book Recommendation: “The Gazer’s Spirit” by John Hollander

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This marvelous book is a collection of entries in ekphrasis that celebrates the artistic synthesis of poetry and painting. In his book, John Hollander, an outstanding poet and critic, presents over fifty works of visual art—spanning from paintings, photographs, sculptures and more, ranging from antiquity to the present. He matches each to poems that evoke the same imageries in their verses. The effect is enlightening and imaginatively organized, chronicling words and images in conversation, as well as showing how, across Western culture, the most poetic writers have been inspired by visual poetry.

The Gazer’s Spirit showcases delightful surprise of ekphrastic play, such as Edith Wharton’s sonnet that illuminates a new interpretation of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. In the following pages merge the minds of Robert Browning and Michelangelo; Charles Baudelaire and Jacques Callot; Herman Melville and J. M. W. Turner; a personal favorite, Randall Jarrell and Albrecht Dürer writing and drawing about The Knight, Death and the Devil.

Among the poets are some of my favorite writers such as James Merrill, Herman Melville, and Rachel Hadas; the visual displays in the book are both distinguished and abstruse, as various as a Greek sculpture, a Medieval tapestry, Impressionist landmarks, and even a fountain by an anonymous architect. In certain instances, perfect affinities, such as a poem by Vicki Hearne poised to a stationary white horse by Gauguin, produces unexpected poetic results.

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