Wednesday, November 29, 2006



Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins by Corinne Robins
(Segue Books, New York, 2000)


I take seriously that the first work of the poet is to read. Developing effective reading strategies to both seep my mind and my spirit in contemporary poems and poems of yesteryear is a central concern of mine. My approach to Corinne Robins’ book Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins engaged me in these questions as I encountered this book for the first time.

Corinne Robins has now published three full-length collections of poetry. Her most recent book, Today’s Menu, was just published in 2006 by Marsh Hawk Press. Robins’ second book, One Thousand Years, was published by Marsh Hawk Press in 2004 and reviewed by Galatea Resurrects #2. Her first book was Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins; the book features cover art by Joyce Romano, a montage of sculptures of women’s bodies, missing arms, breasts exposed.

Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins is divided into two sections. The first, titled “Artists” contains forty-eight poems that take us on a whirlwind tour of art. The second section, titled “Coda: Mythologies,” has nine poems. The poems in the first section are arranged in approximate chronological order by the artists’ lifetime, beginning with Carravaggio, born in 1573, and extending through Anselm Kiefer, born in 1945. In some ways, Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins is like walking through a museum with an astute guide who provides narrative more compelling than any offered on the usual audio guides. Only one thing is missing from this guided tour: the visual experience of seeing the art. That my, however, be the greatest gift of the book. It provides us as readers with the opportunity to encounter and engage the work first through our own imagination and through the careful and precise language and narration of Robins.

Robins has great expectations for her readers in terms of the knowledge and understanding of art. While she provides the requisite information to keep up for those of us who are not art scholars, the poems invite, even sometimes beg, readers to engage with them more deeply and from a more informed and knowledgeable perspective. For instance, in “Cut with a Kitchen Knife” After Hannah Hoch, Robins writes,

What did she know building her

Ethnographic museum of mutilated girls

“cut with a kitchen knife?”

Her face fades surrounded by pictures of men marching.

Hear the sounds of their feet. The Nazis are coming.

If you, like I, are ignorant of Hoch’s work, Robins poem is bound to send you to Google to learn more. Each of the forty-eight poems in the first section of Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins are like this. Robins invites us in and encourages us to engage more. My own fascination with Louise Nevelson helped me appreciate Robins’ poem “Nevelson” in which she writes:

And raging, raging,

assembling her soldier columns,

her horizontal pilings,

constructivist looking glass shapes,

tall as a queen,

remembering all the silences of being ignored,

Robins’ tour de force about Ana Mendieta “who fell from a high window in 1985” titled “The Woman in the Ground” enchants us with these lines:

               How far do you go back, how far did Ana go back?

Everything begins in landscape, bark prints,

her imprint, the silueta, her sculptures in the land,

that drawing, a core of moving black branches,

insect legs or arms so small from Ana--

Both artists, Nevelson and Mendieta, are on my list for further engagement thanks to Robins thoughtful poems about this. All of this is not to say that Robins poetry is not accessible to poets outside of the art world, it is just to acknowledge that in this book we are in the midst of an art scholar who will both educate us and point us to how we might further educate ourselves.

Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins is also a collection of poetry that reminds us of the power of ekphrasis for poets. There is something magical about putting together visual images with words. It is a core passion of Robins and a practice that inspires and compels many poets through the ages.

At its best, poetry teaches us something about the world that we hadn’t encountered or experienced for ourselves. It drives us in new directions expanding our sense of what we can know and want to know. Corinne Robins’ first book Marble Goddesses with Technicolor Skins does that. For me, encountering this book, not only directs me to seek her other books, but also to seek the experiences of engagement with art which have been so productive, and profound, for her.


Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. Her poem "Six Conversations about Cancer" is in Under Our Skin: Literature of Breast Cancer, and her recent essay, "When Women Poets Die Young" is at ICORN. You also can read her essay, "Queer Culture: Our History and Legacy" at the Woman-Stirred Blog. You can learn more about her work at


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