The New York Times Book Review

September 27, 1998

Fiction & Poetry

Pearl Poems by Vincent Katz Paintings by Tabboo!
(Powerhouse Books, 1998)

Review by Elizabeth Gaffney


The paintings and poems in this volume provide a wide-ranging portrait of life in urban America.  The vivid watercolors of the artist Tabboo! (otherwise known as Stephen Tashjian) depict New York City at all times of the day and year, and in every weather.  His cityscapes range from bleakly beautiful views of water towers and television antennas silhouetted against a variegated sky to glittering, surprisingly original renditions of the Manhattan skyline.  All convey a sense of tranquil beauty, perhaps because the eye is always shifted skyward, away from the scurrying masses.  Vincent Katz's poems sometimes seem to mesh perfectly with the artwork ("what matters/ is how the sky looks, how/ buildings reflect it, the certain/ smell of an air"), but more often they bring the reader back to the teeming sidewalks and gritty streets ("Canal Street's western pediment/ mesmerized by the highway lights/ I've poured my love so many years into her concrete").  Unfortunately, Katz's poetry is cluttered with clichˇs and aggravating pileups of disjointed phrases.  But at least there is always a respite from passages like "Ever notice the/ blue lining in a peach salad? diseased/ hair like rent is living, perturbed/ into essence, the like ol' Harvey woulda/ scoffed at" -- it can be found in the spare colors of the painting on the facing page, where the negative space of a darkened church tower serves as a much needed anchor for the trembling nighttime sky.