& persona with poems by Mackenzie Carignan and photographs by Felicia Ohnmacht
Even before reading the “Artists’ Statements” at the back of this collaborative chap, I felt that the title “& persona” is quite fitting. & persona contains combinations of one photographed image with one poem to create a new work. The results are open-ended even as they depict (pleasing) juxtapositions that offer specific narratives. A favorite is “& fingers” which presents an image of a landscape containing a log fence; the eye is immediately drawn to the center which presents a fence corner showing logs placed atop each other—indeed, the effect is similar to the image of intertwined fingers. Yet one—or, I—wouldn’t have thought of fingers were it not for the work’s title. And when I finally read the text, I’m impressed further by the poet’s and artist’s imaginative breadth:
There’s something about the lacing. Touch and twine. The mixture of slice and rub. Muddled spark, all downhill. As if we are rolling, we follow the lines. Closeness, more of a blur than miles away. He is here, in this moment, overlapping each segment of digression. How many do you have? How many more can you touch me with? Hundreds? Thousands? Snakes in the rocks? Your thumbs again, holding every thing in place.
Here is a collaboration where both poems and images are fabulous—that is, lovely, resonant, punchy, intriguing—enough on their own. But their combinations give rise to delightfully effective results of ekphrasis—where 1 + 1 is more than 2. (The work doesn't lapse into the more limited ekphrasis approach where the text seems like mere caption to the image—clearly not the case in this project.) The poems and images flow into each other effortlessly despite their often unusual juxtapositions. (This is one of the most pleasing example of ekphrasis collaboration I’ve witnessed since John Yau’s and Archie Rand’s 100 More Jokes From the Book of the Dead which I was moved to publish in 2001 through Meritage Press.)
In addition, the inclusion of Carignan’s and Ohnmacht’s Artist Statements happens not also to present interesting reading but, among other things, allows for the collection to be judged based on the artists’ intentions:
I approach poetry by asking questions and challenging the language to find an answer, which rarely happens. It’s the asking that makes the poem. In this collection, I am trying to reconcile the many faces/personas I project as a woman: mother, wife, poet, professional, critic, teacher, sister, friend. The poems offer, at best, shadows of answers, and often result in more questions. The poems are also evidence that the desire to define a single self is a lost battle….
After many years of my camera gathering dust, I rediscovered the reason why I shoot photography: the pleasure of finding an unusual detail and seeing it pop off paper. In taking pride in the analyzation of an object’s detail, I in turn find the complex personas that it holds, which is also how I feel about every human. The more we learn and the closer we look at each individual, the more intriguing and detailed are the facades that are presented. I feel that sometimes all it takes is a change of angle, focus or light on any situation to see a more true perspective. & Persona was the perfect way for me to express these details by being inspired by the complexities of the poetry and to document the absorbing mix of human versus object.
Carignan and Ohnmacht achieved their goals with fresh results (the issue isn’t making it new but making it fresh, di ba?). Another marvelous example is “& needle” where the image is of a flower I can’t identify by name, except that its “petals” are thin stalks looking more like stems than leaves (that I can’t identify the flower is not a flaw of the photo but a reflection of my urbanized upbringing, even as my ignorance might make for a more non-mediated response to the image). This piece bears the text
Cleft. Mitosis. Multiple tongues. I speak to you throughout. He put his hand on my vertebrae. Fingers between them like spongy disks. Then squeezed. See, resting spider. You are a succulent breed. I stroke you as you jostle me around. The beasts, alive with their juicy jowls. Foreign self, against my knowing. She is desperate to hold on. Your sweet wisps of hair, brushed away from your face. I…it was me who did the suckling. Who are you, then, with a fist around my spine?
A particular image, but as the “&”—which significantly begins all titles—proposes, these works seed something else: deliberately unpredictable responses. For while the text, when the image is the starting point for a reader/viewer’s entry—or vice versa—are examples of how the “&” component may be fleshed out, that each work carries an embedded response doesn’t preclude someone else’s imaginative extension on the work. In that unpredictability, “persona” is a logical description of the project even as the persona will never be fixed by any singular reading/perusal.
In the chap’s last page, the artists express their hope that the project is enjoyed by others as much as by they enjoyed making it. I mention this statement not cursorily. This project is, in fact, one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve experienced in poetry and its collaborative relationships. And that’s just great since I enjoyed meeting “& persona” without knowing what/who exactly it is I met—it’s like some really deep conversations I’ve had with total strangers whom I never saw again (serendipitous meetings through prolonged waits at airports or at large parties). The pleasure existed in that conversation; I didn’t have to know anything else about the people and their lives for the conversation itself to have sufficed for offering a lovely engagement. I suppose that’s what some critics (and some artists and poets themselves) mean, too, when they insist, ‘It’s the work that counts.”
Eileen Tabios does not allow her books to be reviewed in Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to Anny Ballardini’s review of her I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved in JACKET, as well as Allen Gaborro’s review of her The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes in the Philippine News.