Morri Creech’s Blue Rooms

The Arts at Queens proudly presents The English Department Reading Series and poet Morri Creech, Tuesday, November 13, 7 pm, Ketner Auditorium, Sykes Building, Queens University of Charlotte.

Nov 13, poet Morri Creech reads from his just-released fourth collection, Blue Rooms. The book is eagerly anticipated; his previous, The Sleep of Reason, was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. You may have seen his poem “The Choice” painted as a Wall Poem at Brevard & 9th Streets, or may have attended one of his classes at Charlotte Lit. Morri is my colleague and friend at Queens University.

The poems of Blue Rooms explore the perceiving mind and the possibilities and limitations of language. Words themselves are the question, what they can and cannot contain, and what this means at a personal level, given the emotional weight of “what slips the net of language.” The book includes ekphrastic poems, which reflect on works of art. They do so with such a depth of voice that, although knowledge of art references reveals satisfyingly complex layers, such knowledge is not required.

In the opening sequence, “Self Portrait as Magritte,” the books’ thematic concerns unfold brilliantly through the figure of this painter, a surrealist known for finding the strange in the every day and for mislabeling objects. As these poems reference art, the art provides a means to comment on language. The reverberations between the two media, poetry and painting, echo the work of Magritte. The self-portrait structure of this series is particularly engaging. Identity is rendered elusive. The self cannot recognize itself, is tangible and yet not present, seeable and yet unknowable. Others cannot be known; “The kissing lovers’ shrouded heads / Lean together in ignorance.”

The second poem in this group references Magritte’s “The Mysteries of the Horizon,” an oil painting with three men in bowler hats beneath three slivers of moon: “These three men share my look and dress./ I cannot say which one is me./ Three ways I face the emptiness,/ The central man, the mystery.” The poems feel inevitable in their form, yet there is also a haunting use of the sentence, creating perhaps a sort of identity question within the kept form itself: how, within these metered, end-rhymed lines, do the poems create such stillness? The space generated by this unhurried music holds revelations that raise more questions: “The self is still our best disguise.”

Throughout the book, the exploration continues, through pastoral paintings and the works of Cézanne. The imagery rendered through language begins to take on a different feel in this context. The apple, the camshaft bolt, the skull: each are explored as parts of a still life blurring into narrative and back again to still life. Certain poems suggest a kinship to the philosophical poetry of Wallace Stevens. There are discoveries to make in the diction, which starts to feel as characteristic as the brushstrokes of Cézanne (natter” and “daub” and “smutch”), creating a particular voice within the disruptive concerns about identity.

There is an increasing urgency, and the tone becomes more burdened. Leonardo da Vinci is featured as the dissector of the corpse. Poems explore violence. The journey of the book leads to “a trick of perception.” In the “Self-Portrait After Goya” sequence, near the book’s end, Goya paints “my nightmare,” and “I cannot speak, strapped to my fever chair.” Language has ultimately led to the cost of the questions, “the circling birds / Of sheer unreason,” the suffering and the sleeplessness, and the terrible images Goya depicts while “trapped in his head.” The final poem on a Japanese folding screen, which follows this sequence, brings relief.

Morri Creech was born in Moncks Corner, SC, and was educated at Winthrop University and McNeese State University. He is the author of four collections of poetry, including his latest, Blue Rooms (The Waywiser Press), and The Sleep of Reason, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is the Writer in Residence at Queens University of Charlotte, where he teaches courses in both the undergraduate creative writing program and in the low residency MFA program.

Julie Funderburk is author of the poetry collection The Door That Always Opens (LSU Press). She is the recipient of fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Sewanee Writers Conference. She is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte.