Synæsthesium: Poems

Moira Egan '84

Synæsthesium, which won the 2017 New Criterion Poetry Prize, opens with a section titled “Olfactorium.” Inspired by fragrances and the olfactory flashbacks (real or imagined) they induce, Moira Egan's poems are peppered with the language of perfumery, from Old Spice to Casbah.

In the second part, titled “Love and Work,” Egan draws on the works of Suzanne Valadon, a lesser-known contemporary of Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and Renoir. Valadon started out as an artist’s model (and the lover of several of the above) but then picked up a brush to become a painter in her own right. Egan employs poetic forms—sonnets, syllabics, a villanelle, a rondeau—that reflect the content of Valadon’s paintings and drawings. (Criterion Books, 2017)

Egan’s previous books are Botanica Arcana/Strange Botany (2014), Hot Flash Sonnets (2013), Spin, La Seta della Cravatta/The Silk of the Tie (2009), Bar Napkin Sonnets (2009), and Cleave (2004). With Damiano Abeni, she has translated several poets into Italian, including John Ashbery, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright.


Valadon painting

Femme à la contrebasse

(after the painting by Suzanne Valadon, 1914–15)

How much more angled could this parlor be?
With olive walls stolid, and frame upon frame
of a window, glass leaded, just over a mantel
of onyx and ivory, which bevels 
from yellow to flame.

She, on the other hand, curve against curve,
is a woman who plays double bass.
Is she out of proportion to show the importance
of elegant fingers and wrists that are strong?
The bass bends its waist to her, posing and poised,
her own face a study in wide-eyed and wonder.

And what will you do with this, viewer,
with this new confusion of music, of muse
and of mistress, when she to be played upon’s
suddenly player, and she to be painted,
her skin for the offering, walks round the easel
with ease, becoming the painter?

Synæsthesium: Poems by Moira Egan '84