Coördinates of Yes
REVIEWED BY TANYA GRAE
Coördinates of Yes
by Janée J. Baugher
Ahadada Books, 2010.
Paperback: 92 pages
Pleasures afforded by Janée J. Baugher in Coördinates of Yes are not unlike opening a cherished jewelry box and touching heirlooms within: burnished and intimate. In her debut collection, we find the poet’s European travels rendered through ekphrasis of famous artwork, standing alongside in contemplation, even if vicariously. Art and travel elide melding fullness to each poem, with the coordinates as intersections of experience and imagination—immediate depth.
Baugher relates her journey with precision and without pretense. She brings the reader across countrysides, through galleries, stepping close, then drawing back. In the poem “Portrait de L’Artiste,” Baugher is summoner and empath for van Gogh’s sense of self: “Arcs of paint. Imprecise circles. / The path on which you crutched was riddled, / riddled—paintings, chemical disparity. // The acuity / both salvaged and savaged. / With it: maddened. Without it: maddened. / Children taunting you, / chasing with stones. Alone at night with your canvas, / you sensed them in every color.”
With repetitions embodying his mental decline, short lines add a pace. The well-chosen “acuity” suggests keenness of perception, but is juxtaposed against a social backdrop with which van Gogh had no talent. His world was almost savant—blooming in private spaces, in reflection. “La Chambre de van Gogh á Arles,” another poem about van Gogh offering a grittier perception, shows “On the lilac wall, portraits seem / uncertain of their hooks. / The wood floor, quite worn. The dressing table / (with bowl and pitcher), weary on its joints. / Above it, maelstrom in his mirror.” Once again, word choice relates plainly and the line breaks add dimension. Even to state, “With cobalt-green, he’s painted the panes shut— / the air in the room caves in on him.” So much is suggested through association, but the image is simple and language accessible.
Another sense, besides implied comparison to a gallery, is to ponder a salon, or series of parlors. Baugher invites us in and points the right direction, leaving us to wander images and varied circumstances—creating place—little dioramas framed by a vision and given context. Deceptively objective, the poems linger decadent. In “Conditions of a Woman,” after the installation by Armand Fernandez, we consider a litany of contents from his wife’s rubbish bin:
The used and left-behind, and the man who loves her for it—
he who sees what is embellished and squandered
to smoke and mirrors
a reflection insisting others are more fair.
Over the image she wastes her cosmetics;
with that heel
I imagine her smashing the glass.
Laying it bare, the poet turns reliable narrator, walks us past both the sublime and eroding. With a jeweler’s sensibility, she facets each image, clarifying. At the end of the collection, “Draining West” reflects: “Continent, what have you done? / Awake all last night at a Dublin pub / and today you spit me back. / Must I now know my final destination, / the conjugation of new tenses? / How odd the art of retrospection.”
In mapping her Yes-es—moments when art and place overtake—Baugher reveals herself fully engaged, a willing docent for the tour.