Emily Robin Clark’s title for her first collection poems, Art Triumphant, seems fitting.
While she’s been involved in creative writing since the age of 12 and has established herself as a poetic force in the Los Angeles area with LITCRAWL and Beyond Baroque—among other organizations and in numerous places, Clark’s resume includes acting, directing, and screenwriting, including her recently well-received and much honored indie short film Love Spell.
With Art Triumphant, she displays her skill at crossing formats and categories. It starts with her decision to divide the book into three sections, into “galleries,” a choice that resembles Modest Mussorgsky’s musical suite Pictures at an Exhibition, where the music correlates to the paintings of his friend, painter Viktor Hartmann.
In her pages, Clark’s galleries encompass overarching themes, with the first covering art, life, and love, while the second is a survey of music and language, and the third focuses on faith and nature.
Properties of visualization are evident throughout but certainly strongest in the First Gallery, especially in the poem that provides the book’s title, “Filling Up My Room with Art Triumphant.” In that piece, Cook lays a foundation of “sturdy white walls” that “hold a Japanese mermaid.”
The volume starts with “Lunch With You,” a poem focusing on both color and flavor with images such as “infectious lemon light” and “lemon butter sauce” before recalling a presumed lover “like honey on my tongue.” Later, “Still Life” continues her familiarity with the sensuous where “paint drips on our tongues,” and readers witness a:
Lemon yellow slab of petal
On a Monet.
In that piece, “the sound captures” one’s attention, particularly in the onomatopoetic “snap, snap, snap” she sprinkles throughout the text.
Like many artists, she employs primary colors in “Behind Her Eyes Are Petals” where “a girl/barely yellow” is remembered. The narrator recounts to the reader:
I watch smoke undulate on blond strands.
A black clove cigarette
bold blue slippers on delicate feet.
That poem then captures a storm where “Jagged, narrow veins emerge on maps of sky” and then notes how “Monet painted her this way.”
Such impressionistic imagery returns in “Handprint” wherein:
He took my hand
And I let him
Smooth back my hair
Caught in my lip.
Or was it a shadow
He swept away?
Along with the arts, nature and the natural world also take center stage in Clark’s Second Gallery, from the cellular level of “Dendritic” to the wider scope of a visit to the “Wonders of Worley Cave” in Tennessee, potentially an “inferno” where “the rock’s clay face folds into a million/wrinkles.” The visual aspect of “Ruined Creek” blends with other senses where “Earth turns her soil sour colors,” leading the reader to the question whether this state of being is the result of pollution.
Some of her poems on nature cross over to humanity. “A Geography of Rubber Men” has its roots in Heart of Darkness and depicts how,
Here, darkness births light
weaves a green leafscape.
until “the forest yields herself to foreigners,” a reversal from most of the standard interpretations concerning Joseph Conrad’s novel.
Given that poetry began as a blend of history and mythology, Clark follows those traditions, particularly in the Third Gallery where Socrates shows up as does Elijah. Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie appear while “A Ship Called Sisyphus” takes the reader to “the Pillars of Hercules.”
Modern myths also take a bow, or better said, strike a pose as the legendary “Bettie Page” is memorialized on the page. In “On the Presence of Human and Celestial Spheres,” one wonders if it is about a past lover or an admiring nod to Copernicus. In her observations of people, Clark moves from the specific to the general. “Nativity” gets down to the elemental, depicting how “the stifling room stinks of blood and urine” then she depicts a universal “Pilgrim at the Mosque.”
One of her closing pieces, “Trails,” introduces “a Native wind” and juxtaposes indigenous tribes against more recent historical events that took place “inside boxcars marked for ovens” and poses the problematic historical dilemma of:
Who stoked the fires
And burned them alive?
In any artistic endeavor, form follows function, so a final aspect of Clark’s writing worthy of attention—not entirely surprising given her skill in various forms of media—is her control over the language in her work. For example, “Storm Dreams” employs an odd structure of the short stanza with the extended line. There are aspects of a religious “litany” in “Cascade Springs” where there is a chorus of “Let” opening each stanza until readers reach the refrain of “Take.”
Her diction, as well, captures childhood as skillfully as Heather McHugh can. This is seen in “Childhood,” as Clark takes her readers to where “worlds grow/in your tongue-twisted mind.”
A return look back to “Filling Up My Room with Art Triumphant” reveals the lines “swift and fast currents are staid/by her weight.” These lines display a wonderful use of homophones where the reader could hear “stayed” and “wait” in an oral reading.
Clark herself declares in her introductory notes that “the world creates us and in turn, we create the world.”
Read Art Triumphant and enter her world.