The Gentle Art
90 Pages / 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.20 in
- Paperback /
- 9780807178713 /
- Published: August 2023
- eBook /
- 9780807180570 /
- Published: August 2023
The poems in The Gentle Art, a compelling new collection from William Wenthe, move between the life of the painter James McNeill Whistler and a poetic version of the author, who is at once inspired and disturbed by Whistler. The present-day author sheds light on Whistler’s artistic vocation and the beauty of his paintings, most notably the liminal London riverscapes that he named Nocturnes, yet recoils at the cost of Whistler’s devotion to art: lovers abandoned, friends turned into enemies, his own children given away to adoption.
Creating a kind of dual biography, Wenthe grapples with feelings of admiration and disaffection toward Whistler as he tries to perform his own roles as parent, partner, and poet. While some of the poems are narrative, their overall effect is associative—two lives superimposed in a double exposure, with attention to what the contrast of two centuries, the nineteenth and the twenty-first, reveals about the relationship of art to money, class, and politics.
“The Gentle Art retraces the career and life of the great artist James McNeill Whistler while simultaneously recounting the author’s own journey through life as a poet, overlaying ‘period’ scenes with episodes from his own narrative so that they illuminate each other in remarkable ways. Over the course of the book, we witness, and experience for ourselves, the evolution of Wenthe’s feelings about his gifted, complicated, and sometimes infuriating subject.” ~Jeffrey Harrison
“Wenthe’s moving and skillful engagement with Whistler’s life and art becomes an occasion for the poet to meditate on his own. Deft formal poems (sestina, sonnet, terza rima, ottava rima) pay tribute to Whistler’s mastery; trial accounts, anecdotes, snippets from journals and letters offer a surprisingly ample account of the artist’s imperfect life. And through all of it, we have Wenthe: looking, living, researching, traveling, and writing poems, which like his subject’s Nocturnes, ‘reveal / unintended presences’ and ‘tilt the city, slightly, from its frame.’” ~Jacqueline Osherow
“In this allusive and deftly braided book, teeming with trenchant Victorian incidents and details, Wenthe consistently moves beyond mere ekphrasis to empathy, identification, and revelation.” ~Cyrus Cassells
“Poised somewhere between Whistler’s comment, ‘Art happens,’ and Rilke’s directive, ‘You must change your life,’ The Gentle Art brilliantly encompasses the wry and the sublime. . . . Wenthe is engaged in a startling fusion wherein the painter and the poet become mirror-like illuminations of each other. The Gentle Art is painful, gorgeous, and wise.” ~Rick Barot