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"The Music We Hear"

Jess Mynes' Sky Brightly Picked

Christopher Rizzo

  Sky Brightly Picked.
Jess Mynes.
Skysill Press, 2009.
96 pages, $15 (paperback).
ISBN: 1907489002.
Buy at Amazon.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to read Jess Mynes' first full-length book of poetry in manuscript. Although we referred to the collection in conversation as "the Rothko's," Mynes ultimately decided on the title Sky Brightly Picked, as if to indicate that, through the writing process, he had finally made each poem in the lengthy sequence entirely his own, independent from the Mark Rothko paintings that sparked them.

While the poems retain the chronologically ordered titles of the paintings, which span a total of thirty-three years, this book exceeds ekphrasis, which is the rhetorical device that relates one artistic medium to another by describing its essence or intrinsic form. In confronting the conventional ekphrastic relationship between painting and writing, this collection explores how one can respond to aesthetic experience through sensual apprehension, rather than through clear concepts. As John Coletti points out, these poems offer us "other / kinds of knowing."

The vibrantly laconic poems of Sky Brightly Picked do not describe Rothko's paintings. While Mynes presumably addresses Rothko himself with an occasional apostrophic "you," these poems methodologically respond to the aesthetic experience of seeing the paintings and, at the same time, hearing the response itself. Robert Duncan: "The materials of the poem—the vowels and consonants—are already structured in their resonance, we have only to listen and to cooperate with the music we hear."

Mynes not only listens attentively with a gifted ear, but also writes in collusion "with the music." While some poems are less intensively musical than others, "Untitled {Purple, White and Red}, 1953" is exemplary:

brick bag halo strike

swath writhe absence

sweat cut pits making

shallow amends more

orange in yearning

Mynes deploys a more conversational tone in "Untitled {Blue, Yellow, Green on Red}, 1954," stating that "I always thought orange means sky brightly." The tense shift shows how the apprehension of language affects thought, as well as how "the materials of the poem" define one's empirical present. Such a moment is not a mistake, but rather an opportunity for meaning.

In the aptly titled "No. 1 (Royal, Red, and Blue) {Untitled}, 1954," we find one of the main threads in the book:

heart's too far to steam right through
the letter of you

removed from name to speculation

again we are both

Does "again we are both" indicate that names are speculative, or perhaps that "both" the addresser and the addressee are "removed from name to speculation"? We are left to speculate. In doing so, however, we as readers are "removed from name to speculation." In other words, we are removed from the certainty of clear concepts to the uncertainty of exploratory observations and considerations.

As Mynes suggests, "what keeps / your compass sensate" is how one responds to "the music we hear." Although this book is a first full-length endeavor, we are obviously in the hands of a highly experienced artist. Sky Brightly Picked never fails to fascinate, and I am all the better for having heard its music.

. . .