Thursday, July 27, 2017



Ekstasis with photographs by Peter Valente and poetry by Kevin Killian
(BlazeVOX Books, New York, 2017)

Writing “after” (another) art is ekphrasis, but is not necessarily poetry. Kevin Killian’s writings after Peter Valente’s photographs reveal ekphrasis poetry by not making the common mistake in ekphrasis attempts: making captions (e.g. to “explain” the image—a closed approach by serving up the conclusion to the reader).  Killian’s poetry surfaces through an indeterminacy that nonetheless effects a personal intimacy between reader and words … and, thus, the similarly moving and evocative photographs.  For example

“A woman somewhere between twenty and seventy”

refers to the Valente photograph of a woman whose features are blurred and otherwise not clear (click on all images to enlarge)

Killian’s words offer an apt rendering. For the phrase can evoke many narratives, each of which depend on the reader. This is also to say, the phrase does not get in the way of the reader forming hir own response to the image.

Killian’s synesthetic insertion of a scent into several photographs is also genius; it moves from the on-point evocativeness of the referenced scent viz

“Low cloud of violet fog blurring the bed’s four corners, almost like patchouli,”

to (oh such a brilliant leap)

“and underneath the heavy scent, the deeper scent of a woman thinking.”

Here are some of the photographs accompanying the above excerpts:

As well, it says something admirable about the power of Valente’s photographs that their own figurative instability makes them linger in memory. It does make sense, for instance, that the above photograph of the woman lying on bed shifts to the subsequent photograph depicting two layers of the same image as if the soul is shifting out of the body and is photographically-caught levitating—an effect that eliminates porn from the gaze, transforming straightforward desire into a more complicated type of longing.

As you can see, there’s also dimness in the photographs; Killian responds with

“The last sunny rays of the day have melted away;”

There’s something about the idea of melting that casts a solidity to the process of diminishing light—it’s a much different sensibility from, say, light evaporating. The solidity is fitting—the photographs, after all, are of a woman’s body.

This is my first review of a publisher’s online sample or preview of a book. I’m not going to insult the authors or publisher by asking for a (free) review copy. I’ma gonna buy the book myself. That’s how compelling the excerpts are and I fully believe the book will not disappoint. I have faith that from the hors’ douevres HERE shall come a three-star meal. Join me!  


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea ResurrectsHer 2017 poetry releases include two books, two booklets and six poetry chaps. The latter includes a new fundraising chap, MARAWI, co-authored with Albert Alejo. Forthcoming later this fall is a new poetry collection, MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press). She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere for a recent review of her work: M. Earl Smith reviews Excavating the Filipino In Me for The FilAm Magazine!  More info about her work at

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