Djelloul Marbrook: The Body Language of Poetry

Djelloul Marbrook: The Body Language of Poetry

Tune into Djelloul Marbrook’s thoughtful perspectives on reading poetry. Djelloul is the author of several books, his first poetry book, Far from Algiers, won the Wick Prize. Deerbrook Editions published his second book Brushstrokes and glances.

Vox Populi

Don’t gesticulate with your hands or make faces when speaking, the teachers at my British boarding school told me. It’s vulgar. I’m sure that this enjoinder at such an impressionable age imbued my poems with reticence and austerity.

But poetry has a body language. The poet’s way of breathing supplies oxygen to the body and to the poem. The poet’s way of walking and talking is inherent in the poem. I knew a poet who walked like the prow of a ship cutting through waves, the bone in its teeth, as sailors say, and that how her poems walked and talked.

The body language of a poem is also shaped by the script used in its writing. If it was first written by hand the poet’s hand, the stops and starts, the way I’s are dotted and t’s crossed, lives in the poem. If the poem was first typed, the…

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Djelloul Marbrook

Djelloul at Lincoln

Djelloul at Lincoln Center

You may not need an introduction to Djelloul Marbrook, author of several books, including Far from Algiers, winner of the Wick Poetry Prize, and author of Brushstrokes and glances (Deerbrook Editions), as an active and accomplished writer. Recently Djelloul posted about his following in Algiers, Bou Saada,  being in his heritage, and well, there is so much more to know about this very interesting man and his family, he agreed to let me post it here. I thought that some introduction would be nice for those  visitors who may not know Djelloul.

   When I received Djelloul’s manuscript for Brushstrokes and glances, I was in RI beginning work on restoring a press. His work struck me as being uniquely stimulating in its regard for art and intellect, and being form an art background, I was interested in publishing his book of poems.
   The fact that he had won a prize for a first book added to the intrigue. When I received the book and following links and notes on information about this writer, the intrigue grew. Not only was his mother a painter in NY in the early twentieth century, his aunt was also, and one of her paintings was used for the cover of his book.
   Does this seem to lack the force and nuance that you’d expect from a paragon of creativity? Small presses cannot broadcast enough about their winning authors. Poetry has been found to be a mysterious genre for many readers or so it would seem judging from the survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago on behalf of The Poetry Foundation.
   So here I continue the effort to bring to the attention of whomever visits this blog who is interested in poetry of the excellent writer that is Djelloul Marbrook. I assume many know him  in the circles that visit his blogs for he is more than a poet, as you will see if you go to the link above. He is an essayist and fiction writer that cares deeply about creativity and journalism. He spent most of his life in journalism as a newspaper editor. I encourage you to buy his books.
I give you this:
Hamdi Kamel, a Facebook friend from Algeria, graciously sent me this greeting from Bou Saada in eastern Algeria. My father, Ben Aissa ben Mabrouk, lived his entire adult life in Bou Saada, except for a few sojourns in England. He was born in Ain Rich, not far from Bou Saada. I was born in Algiers the year Albert Camus was finishing his studies at the University of Algiers in 1934. My mother was an American artist living in Bou Saada, sometimes called the City of Happiness. Their relationship failed and I never knew my father. My mother took me to England and then America, where I grew up. Bou Saada, under French rule, was famous for its European artists’ colony and the hospitable Oulad Nail tribe. My mother’s paintings and drawings of Bou Saada, some 165 of them, now reside in Le Musee des Beaux-Arts in Algiers. She often described her years among the Oulad Nail as the happiest of her long life. She painted its citizenry as her neighbors and friends, not as exotics, and this distinguished her work from the Orientalist painters. She preferred the company of the indigenous peoples to that of their colonial occupiers, a fact that often got her in trouble with the colonial administration. The fact that she was German-speaking and of German descent also aroused suspicion among the French who thought she might be making topographical studies for German intelligence. Ben Aissa married Rose Fitzsimmons, a longtime Scottish resident of Bou Saada who was well-regarded for her philanthropic work. Lawrence Morgan wrote a fictionalized version of the complex relationship between my mother, Ben Aissa and Rose in The Flute of Sand.
                                      —Djelloul Marbrook
If you are looking for an intriguing writer to follow I urge you to look at Djelloul Marbrook and read through his archives. I would be pleased, too, if you were to buy Brushstrokes and glances, and perhaps you’ll find some of the many reviews, I can’t keep up with them, by the many who have written about this fascinating man.
Here is a review at  the New York Journal of Books for Brushstrokes and glances.
If you go to our cover gallery you will find the info about the cover.

Object biography #12: A wooden shabti of King Seti I (Acc. no. 13906)

Object biography #12: A wooden shabti of King Seti I (Acc. no. 13906).

In mulling over a recent post, going back into WordPress there are my followed blogs, I noticed the word Shabtis. This word struck me since Djelloul Marbrook leads off his book “Brushstrokes and glances” with a poem of that name.

This is a beautiful image of a wooden Shabti. Please visit the Manchester blog.

Shabtis, by Djelloul Marbrook
(The Brooklyn Museum)

May I stay here in diorite
a millennium or two,
chat amiably with Thoth
or Horus, worry
about Ra and Apophis
but not Ponzi schemes?

I’d like to be a shabti
awakened at night
by Nefertiti
to prepare her bath
and anoint her with oil,
to rest in a cedar box

and not think of news,
to be an amulet,
a cylinder resting
between Isis’s breasts.
I’d like to stay here
when the lights go out.

Djelloul Marbrook received the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize

Art and poetry event at SUNY Orange

Next week, September 22, there will be an opening and poetry reading at the SUNY Newburgh campus featuring paintings by Juanita Guccione and a poetry reading by Djelloul Marbrook from his book Brushstrokes and glances. To anyone able to attend this will be a very interesting event because the art and author are related  in at least a couple of ways. For one, the painter Juanita Guccione is Djelloul Marbrook’s mother and so the relationship of the author to art and his life as a museum goer are basic to the poetry in his book. I know I am doing my best to attend, and I live in Maine.

Finding time

I have neglected  the discussion as it were, here, and surfacing from my subterfuge, must reiterate the treasure that is this work, Brushstrokes and glances by Djelloul Marbrook, and that it is my pleasure to publish this book from such a wonderful writer.

This post perhaps went unnoticed as it first appeared below the end of summer notes. Please look now to the text which follows praise for Far from Algiers by Lucy Bowditch.

Brushstrokes and glances by Djelloul Marbrook, is already in print and headed for market. The author is an exceptional writer from Germantown, NY, and has gotten attention for his first prize-winning book, Far from Algiers.

Here are some words of praise for Far from Algiers:

Praise for Djelloul Marbrook’s Far from Algiers (Kent State University Press, 2008), winner of the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry:

“ . . . I find some perfection of style, including images, in his verse.
One example is
Houses war to keep
what happens in them
from suck and blanch
of time.

This is as succinct as most stanzas by Dickinson.  . . . an unusually mature, confidently composed first poetry collection.”
—Susanna Roxman, Prairie Schooner

“. . . honors a lifetime of hidden achievement.”
—Toi Derricotte

“. . . wise and flinty poems outfox the Furies of exile, prejudice,
and longing . . . a remarkable and distinctive debut.”
—Cyrus Cassells

“. . . brings together the energy of a young poet with the wisdom
of long experience.”
—Edward Hirsch

“. . . the kind of book you want to buy over and over—partly
so you can support such a fine emerging writer.”

“. . . so conceptually compelling that I stayed in my hotel room
to finish it, missing an event not too far from my hotel.”
—Deborah Poe, Linchpin

“Djelloul Marbrook sounds like no one else.”
—Barbara Louise Ungar, Celaan

I know that Djelloul Marbrook is an exceptional writer, as anyone can see that visits his blog and website. I cannot say anything better about the book than does Lucy Bowditch, author of the foreword to Brushstrokes and glances, which I will post here:

Djelloul Marbrook’s poems unflinchingly celebrate and chide. With his literary brushstrokes and glances, he insightfully considers artists, critics, curators, viewers, and the works themselves. Unlike the art historian who might analyze, dissect, and uncover meaning by deploying a legalistic claim, the poet surrenders to direct feeling uncovering experiential truths that parallel the truth of art itself. As Horace reminds us, ut pictura poesis.

The poems are kaleidoscopic: the narrator’s position constantly shifts, as does the time period considered. Sometimes we are looking at a painter’s process. Another moment, we are situated within a painting itself, a detail of the composition. Next, the style or the artist’s biography becomes a metaphor for a human condition or desire.

In Lucian Freud and my mother, Marbrook captures the opportunistic, ruthless quality of that particular bird of prey—the painter—for whom all is fair game. By contrast, Georges Seurat (Studies for A Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte) is a gentle appreciation the artist’s fleeting Symbolist preparatory drawings for the large signature pointillist work now in the Art Institute of Chicago. Undersides of leaves, a poem evoking the late, photography-inspired work of Corot, describes the shimmering halation of moving leaves from the perspective of one of the leaves integrated in Corot’s largely monochromatic composition. In Shabtis (The Brooklyn Museum), Marbrook playfully identifies with an ancient Egyptian burial figurine that performs chores in the afterlife for Queen Nefertiti and escapes the burden of quotidian temporal existence.

Praise, admonishment, and acceptance inform Marbrook’s agile narrative voice. Making an unexpected analogy between an ineffectual government and Caravaggio’s force of character, Marbrook champions the artist in A government like Caravaggio. At times a poem takes on a reprimanding tone as in The critic speaks, which could refer to the poet’s view of the critic or the critic’s view of the world. A pale of words, a sweet description of a sixth century BCE grave stele representing a little girl and her youthful departed older brother, sadly reflects art’s limited but significant ability to withstand profound human loss.

Djelloul Marbrook’s poems unexpectedly animate the visual arts due to the multiple fanciful perspectives and succinct identifications of art- related realities. In My mother dying, Marbrook, at high personal cost no doubt, recognizes the desire of an artist to, on one hand, remain childlike and thus have access to all that primary process material, and, on the other, marshal skills to transform experience into art allowing one to live for a thousand years. After all, life is short. Art is long.

Brushstrokes and Glances is as well a welcome companion to anyone interested in poetry and its role as a sister art to a broad history of visual art. Marbrook ranges from contemporary artists to anonymous ancient Egyptian sculptors. His vision invokes the delight of promiscuous wandering in New York’s best museums, the Metropolitan, the Frick or the Brooklyn Museum. Nothing remains static in this merry-go-round of the senses where, “The eye is best that distrusts the mind.”

Lucy L. Bowditch
Associate Professor of Art History
The College of Saint Rose



Martin Steingesser has been active as usual reading with authors of the new book Maine in Four Seasons: 20 Poets Celebrate the Turning Year published by Down East Books, edited by Wesley McNair and with illustrations by Jan Owen. There have been readings in Belfast, Brunswick, and coming up on November 17th at the Portland Public Library, 12 noon. This spring Brothers of Morning appeared in the second edition, with revisions by the author. A new chapbook of love poems by Martin is in the works here at Deerbrook. Thank you to Longfellow Books and Gulf of Maine Books for ordering books.

There are two other Deerbrook poets in the Maine in Four Seasons collection, Carl Little and Stuart Kestenbaum (Prayers & Run-on Sentences, Deerbrook Editions 2007), and they along with others will be reading in Bangor at the Bangor Public library October 2nd. I believe this is part of the Bangor Festival and books will be available at or through The Briar Patch, 27 Central St. in Bangor, ME.

Carl Little also had his poem The Clearing appear  on Ted Kooser’s web page American Life in Poetry , and subsequently by the New York Times page Learning Network for the poetry pairing column.