Poems for Vincent Van Gogh
Louis Martinelli’s grand performance in language guides us through the psyche of Van Gogh, surrounds his sorrow, illuminates his achievement, exalts in the ecstasy of painting he gave the world. I will savor these poems and for a long time to come.
—Jason Berry, author most recently of City of A Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300
Lou Martinelli’s visionary collection of poems on Van Gogh, Dreaming with Open Eyes, is a marvel. While its sharp focus and consistent tone unify the volume, individual poems evoke an intriguing dialogue among a variety of voices. I am transported by their range, ingenuity, and fearlessness. The overall effect is breathtaking, culminating with a pair of exceptional poems.
Moreover, this edition incorporates a selection of Van Gogh’s own evocative drawings. In addition, it rewards the reader to look online for celebrated paintings named in many other poems—such as “Pieta,” “Sorrow,” and “Undergrowth with Two Figures.” Martinelli’s imaginative treatment of each piece strikes me as unerring. The sketch of Gachet, for instance, is especially soulful; indeed, his troubled expression seems to complement the discussion of Van Gogh’s psychology and distressed state of mind perfectly.
The author has also thoughtfully included an illustrated “Afterword.” A section entitled a “Note on Method” is especially illuminating, above all for an exchange with noted American ecologist and literary naturalist Paul Gruchow. Ultimately, the poet is bold in his assessment of the artist’s significance: “If Von Humboldt is our first ecological scientist, perhaps Van Gogh is our first ecological painter; everything he saw is connected to everything else.” Yet it is ultimately Van Gogh himself who utters the “last word”—as if a grace note closing the collection as a whole: “I have a wonderful lucidity at moments, these days when nature is so beautiful, I am not conscious of myself anymore and the painting comes to me as in a dream.”
—Christian Knoeller, Purdue University, Author of Reimagining Environmental History