A semi-regular column where arts editor Seth Combs reviews notable new poetry collections and chapbooks.
I recently had a rather unpleasant encounter with a local artist who was upset with me for giving an exhibition he helped coordinate a bad review. I listened to his grievances attentively and even managed to keep a smile on my face after being called a "hipster asshole." Where he lost me, however, was when he fell into that all-too-familiar trap of disparaging writing as some sort of lesser art. That tired "dancing about architecture" line of reasoning where, if you're a visual artist, you're somehow doing something, whereas writers do nothing but write about the doers.
I point this out in relation to Anna Zappoli mainly because I am often guilty of the same kind of simple-minded pigeonholing. Upon receiving Zappoli's new collection of poetry, From Somewhere Else (Puna Press), I, too, fell into the trap of thinking that a respected and veteran visual artist surely couldn't be a poet as well. So let's leave the "don't judge a book by its cover" platitudes aside, shall we? Somewhere Else is an intimate study of an artist whose proverbial palette is multilayered and multifaceted. I couldn't be happier about being wrong.
Varying in style and types, the poetry in Zappoli's book is collected chronologically starting in the late '80s when she lived and worked in the still seedy area of downtown San Diego. "A woman artist lives in me/from a land in chains/whispering sorrow/in a world of accessible beauty," she writes in "Woman Artist," a relatable and, indeed, accessible study of the life of a hungry artist. This two-year period in downtown is understandably Zappoli at her most prolific and the poems jump from serious to playful without missing a beat. Subsequent chapters, all of which are accompanied by either pictures of Zappoli or her artwork, paint a particularly poignant portrait (pun intended) of a woman dealing with issues of spirituality, motherhood and mortality.
I don't think it's unfair to call Zappoli a casual poet. A dabbler, if you will. After all, it says right on the back of the book that the nearly 30 years worth poems were collected from old scrapbooks, journals and even flyers. But whether it's a writer dabbling in visual art or vice versa, From Somewhere Else's true strength is proving to the reader that artists often have much more to say beyond their chief medium. When they prove to be competent in both, all we can do is encourage them to do more.