This is Not a Sky by Jessica Piazza

-Reviewed by Steve Nash


Jessica Piazza’s chapbook This is Not a Sky is a collection of ekphrastic works with each poem addressing a different classic work of art.  The volume begins with a musical tour of Van Gogh’s ‘Café Terrace at Night’.  The speaker beautifully articulates the scene whilst playfully interjecting:

(It’s Venice. Or Paris.
                 They’re tipsy.  They’re gorgeous.)

Far from being an intrusion though, these asides serve to pull the reader by the arm – the reader becoming a fellow reveller in the scene, guided deeper into the master’s palette with a fond knowing and reassurance.

The trio of verses that make up ‘Gun’, after Warhol, reflect not only the original work of art, but also themselves as they slowly unfold.  The black, the red, and the white guns climbing out from within each other leading to a final assertion that is no less devastating for its familiarity:

But you never got bored.  But you never got dead.  (But I did.)

Piazza revels in experimentation here and admirably this play often surprises, not just in its form, but also where that experimentation is put into practice.  There are poems here that bound across the page, pyrotechnically delighting in the white space, but where one might most expect such designs, such as the poem dedicated to Escher’s ‘Print Gallery’, the poem is surprisingly restrained on the page.  The scope of Piazza’s vision and her transposition of these famous works of art though, of course, are anything but restrained:

And it’s been a hundred years
of windows and windows and walls.
And every escape I might have endeavored, they limit.
                 (If there is an outside,
I’m in it.)

Elsewhere, Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ is utilised to its fullest by using quotations from the classic work’s subjects to inspire its lines.  The result is a dreamlike prophecy that peers jointly outwards into the real world, and upwards toward transcendence, just as Aristotle and Plato’s fingers gesture respectively on the canvas.

For those who appreciate a bit of a cross media touch in their books these days, there is a lovely bonus here that is sure to impress.  Each poem is accompanied by its own unique QR Code which will take the reader to an image of the painting in question and, where possible, notes on said painting from the gallery currently in possession of the work.

Naturally This is Not a Sky also tackles Magritte’s marvellous ‘The Treachery of Images’.  Few poems have ever managed to capture or recreate the humour of the renowned work, but here Piazza does so with exacting perspicuity.  The balance here, as throughout the chapbook, is remarkable – it’s comical but thoughtful, technically admirable without losing its sense of play:

And the wood is dark.  And the band is gold.  And brown, after all,
may be sky.  (This is not a lie.)

These aren’t just companion pieces to works of art, they are simultaneously tributes, explorations, and transpositions, and, should you feel the urge to delve back into some of these classics of the visual art world, you could do far worse than look to Jessica Piazza’s words as a guide.