Oyster Boy Review 16  
  Winter 2002
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A Luminous Desert: Kenny Fries' Painterly Poetics

Reginald Shepherd

Kenny Fries is a poet of the luminous moment and the luminous landscape. His poems, even when melancholy or wistful, celebrate the world illuminated by love: the love of two men for each other, the love of a man for the natural world (especially the stark beauty of the deserts of the American West), and the love of the artist for color, shape, and form, for drawing order out of matter. The pure lyricism of these poems is piercing, the intensity of focus is unwavering. Desert Walking could as aptly have been entitled Art and Love, for it's largely devoted to (and an example of) these two modes of attention, these two ways of seeing the world anew. Many of the poems are about painters and paintings, celebrating and exploring the artist's construction of the world. One of its centerpieces is about and incorporates the work and voice of Georgia O'Keeffe, for example, and there is also an extended homage to Hart Crane that is both lament and celebration. As Fries writes in "Toward an Abstract Art," a poem which explores a verbal analogue to Ellsworth Kelly's painterly process, "it matters / what we make / from what we find." In the same poem, Fries urges us to "Open your work to the shapes of the world. / But take only what is necessary." Fries sees the traces of the past in the landscapes he moves through; he sees the presence of the past in the current moment: "the earth's history / is displayed in shape and color." The poems bring together the shapes the observing eye draws out of the natural world and the shapes the artist's eye produces, just as they link words, the poet's raw material, with colors and shapes, the painter's raw material: "colors / become the words of a language // without syntax, and finally / . . . the form becomes the word." Such an incarnation of form in language is one of this book's most compelling accomplishments.