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Self-Portrait with Crayon

4.50  ·  Rating details ·  105 ratings  ·  19 reviews
Poetry. "An oblique conversation with Degas reigns throughout this collection of oddly heartbreaking pieces. Against the backdrop of his paintings and sketches, we find ourselves in an intimate world, coherent but uncanny, where private memory becomes inseparable from the culture we hold in common, and all of it just barely cracked open, riven by interstices through which ...more
Paperback, 63 pages
Published March 2nd 2009 by Cleveland State University Poetry Center
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Jan 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Since this is a review item that I will be doing elsewhere (which means I'll be reading it a few more times), I'll just say for now that this is as fine a first collection as I've run across in some time. In fact, it's hard to believe that this is White's first collection. Most first collections (scratch that, most collections, period) will have some weak spots. I couldn't find any here, and found overall the collection to be a beautifully balanced and sustained effort. The poems: beautiful, ...more
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Self-Portrait with Crayon puts words through some highly self-conscious and strenuously skeptical procedures. Benis White tells us that when she kneels down to the ground and puts her "hand inside the imprint of a hand, (she is) not nearer to touching anyone." She has found, then, an object -- a handprint in the pavement, something with several possible well-worn contexts, a child's play being one -- that quite accurately reflects on the limits of representational use words' grooved contexts can ...more
Feb 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
As a mode of thinking, and as a way of knowing, Allison’s poems define and re-define the unresolved grief and loss one experiences when the biological, physical, and emotional bonds of motherly love break down. The complex and textured relationship between mother and daughter is revealed in the intricate texture of the poems, in the most precise and compelling lyricism I’ve read in prose poetry. The poems are ekphrastic, but not in the traditional sense. Though they inhabit the titles of Degas’ ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am so terribly sad to have reached the end of Allison Benis White's currently available oeuvre. My god, she is just a fucking master of the line, and suffuses her poems with such vulnerability and (I hate this word, but it's the one I want) rawness. I can think of so many poets who dodge the display of felt emotion in their work—opting for flights of whimsy or the nonsensical or else relying so heavily on lyrical leaping as to obscure what is available, if anything, to be felt for the reader— ...more
Patricia Murphy
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A friend sent me this book because I also write about my mother's abandonment. This is such a unique and healing approach to writing about the topic, and the result is that we get to the end of the collection feeling what might seem like the same emotional devastation as the author. It's one of those collections that creates a critical mass of emotion, so that there is a compulsion to read forward, and once the reading is finished, the reader feels implicated/connected. Here are some of my ...more
Jul 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
The first book from a poet that I will definitely be following in the future.

The voice here is incredible. I know that is a cop-out in a way, but it is hard to describe in other terms. There is a fierce individuality to these pieces. Entirely prose poetry, the book has a definite cohesion to it that makes it feel less like a first book to me. The poems are what could be called confessional, though there is more mystery here, sometimes the text giving you just a taste of the personal story.

Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
At first, I wanted to call this collection the anti-ekphrasis, but that was wrong. These poems are ekphrastic in the truest sense: using poetry's unique rhetorical faculties, Allison Benis White illuminates Degas paintings in ways they cannot themselves. Each poem is an end result of tracing White's memory of the work through her thought process of engagement with the work, and then into darker depths. White's skills with figurative and declarative language, and of knowing the exact moment for ...more
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the best first books by a poet. This is the book that poetry has needed for a long time--it's accessible, attentive to our ordinary quirks and hurts, and the language is downright beautiful. Although it claims as its territory the familiar landscape of poems--art references, familial separations--this book feels painfully new and alive. It may be that Allison Benis White can do for poems what Amy Hempel does for short stories: carves and carries their weight on a single, hard won ...more
Dec 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
From my review for Crab Creek Review:

Self-Portrait with Crayon is a remarkably well-crafted set of meditations on the relationship between a missing mother, her confused and bereft daughter, and Degas' art works. Each poem tries to map the empty spaces that make up a life. These prose poems present fragments of thought in mesmerizing circles - a woman seeking to define herself, working with crucial gaps where memories should be. The mysteries of the speaker's childhood, evoked with emotionally
Cheryl Klein
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
The prose poems in this collection dance (sort of literally, as many are written after Degas's ballerina paintings) around a missing mother. On one hand, White resists self-pity; on the other, she is rigorous and relentless in her desire to describe the exact devastation written by abandonment. A favorite line: "But God is endless. Like fingers curling over inconsolable stones." As an inconsolable stone myself, I found this book beautiful, mysterious, fresh and as linguistically ...more
Victoria Chang
Jul 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read all year and one of the best first books I've ever read. Benis White's book is mysterious, yet also concrete. I LOVE this book and everyone who cares anything about poetry should read this.
Aug 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books this year.
May 23, 2010 rated it liked it
"I am interested in suddenness," she says in one poem. But I often feel like the poems are not sudden enough. She turns over ideas again and again so that the connections between experiences, images, and words are made in multiple ways (and beautifully so, too). But I feel that she takes too long to do this, even within the span of a poem, so that the writing feels overly labored (the hardest thing in poetry is working really hard on a poem and yet having the finished product seem effortless). I ...more
Michael Liaw
Jul 30, 2009 added it
Shelves: poetry
This is a collection of poems that through meditations on Degas, deals with the author's trauma of her mother who abandons her and her father. Because the poems take Degas' artwork as a lens, her images reverberate and pile on rather than move in a linear narrative fashion. A strand of thought is quickly, and necessarily returned to the artwork and meditation at hand in incessant pursuit for understanding and healing. Foregoing line breaks, this collection of prose poem composed of fragments and ...more
May 16, 2011 rated it liked it
I expected this to be a lot different than it was for a book of prose poems. For some reason my mind tricked me when I read the sample pages. Either way, the poems in this book are haunting in multiple senses. The mother that lives in the gaps reminds me of my own home life. The deep look into Degas' paintings made me shiver. There are beautiful lines and a lack of structure that juxtapose well with the strict formalism of the paintings being referenced. Allison Benis White has not become a ...more
Jul 04, 2009 added it
Until I research all of Degas' paintings, I don't feel I can give a full review of this volume. I believe the poem titles are all painting titles of his, but I'm not sure I would call the volume ekphrastic. The poems are quietly engaging, but shot through with almost piercing strokes of beauty, and the prose form suits them well so that they're sort of epistelary. The speaker here is lonely, motherless (her mother left her and her father), highly observant, and resigned.
Suraj Alva
Oct 23, 2009 rated it did not like it
I wouldn't say that she is a bad author. However, I think that the subject matter that she delves on is a little too redundant. As one of my classmates proclaimed "This book felt like a black hole, sucking away all the life within its reach." Maybe, for some people, this is a gold mine, but not for me.
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
Lately, I've been drawn to prose poems & this book is a damn fine collection of them.
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Review of SELF-PORTRAIT WITH CRAYON 1 44 Nov 29, 2009 02:39PM