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Book Review: Children of Grass: Portraits of American Poetry by B.A. Van Sise

Robert Pinsky, from Children of Grass © B.A.Van Sise

Children of Grass: Portraits of American Poetry is an enriching and visually stimulating anthology that will enchant and win over lovers of both poetry and photography. “Poems are the product of abnormal thinking. They are the weirdos at the literary banquet, because they can be difficult, and uncompromising; they don’t offer an easy in or a proper hello.” In this excerpt of the foreword by Mary-Louise Parker, we are introduced to the tableaux of writers in this timely homage to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. B.A. Van Sise is related to Whitman, and this book is aptly timed to his masterpiece, which is celebrated during the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.

“If you think you don’t enjoy poetry,” Parker says in her foreword, “I will offer that you haven’t met your poem yet, but wherever you stand on poetry, you can still appreciate this book.” Parker continues, “My son says photography is wonderful because photos can show you what words can’t, and these images will leave you with much to discover. You can obviously experience them separately, but when I held an image alongside its verse, and made a meal of moving from one to the other, I caught the genius of this experiment, one I will declare worth calling in sick and devoting a day to. Take to your bed with a bottle of anything wet and someone who loves poetry, or who can at least relish being read to, and you may have the best Valentine’s Day ever.” Van Sise leads the reader through this celebrated homage to Whitman, whether visual or verbal, side-by-side with poignant verse.

But no matter the comparison between written verse of water, or marshes and the Dutch, or a wave crashing upon mountains, or the portrait of a poet as a clown in a library – there is wit and glimmer and ironic smirk in the photographs of B.A. Van Sise. Take Luis Ambroggio for one example; his poem featured in Children of Grass speaks of the universality of the individual and the inclusion of all people within one person; it speaks of the loves and losses of all time and eternity – and the portrait of Ambroggio is that of a bartender cleaning a glass. He is standing in front of a display of books – a selection he could draw from to serve the customer, or succinctly close up for the night. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. This is the type of wit which best expresses the strengths of Van Sise. Likewise, the portrait of CA Conrad laid out on the rooftop of a building at night, covered with gossamer-thin fabric – immediately follows his poem depicting an airplane captain, Frank, who has announced the destruction of all parachutes on board in celebration on the plane’s arrival to its destination – which is directed to all passengers onboard wishing to bail out. Genius.

The power of poetry and photography lies in the unspoken connections made for the reader/viewer. The viewer already has everything needed to decode the image or the verse – and the beauty truly lies in the manner in which it is done.

X.J. Kennedy, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Leila Chatti, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Joyce Carol Oates, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Joshua Marie Wilkinson, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Jeffrey McDainel, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Luis Ambroggio, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise

Ada Limón, from Children of Grass by B.A. Van Sise


Children Of Grass: A Portrait Of American Poetry
By B.A. Van Sise
Foreword by Mary Louise Parker
176 PAGES, 11.25 X 9.5

About Cary Benbow

Photographer, Writer, Publisher of Wobneb Magazine

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