Charlotte Mandel’s poetry in Through a Garden Gate invites the reader to take a nature walk through the paths of Vincent Covello’s magnificent garden. Their ekphrastic collection explores the interplay between photography, poetry, and landscaping. Mandel opens her ninth book of poetry with “This Garden World”:
trying to find words I simply breathe instead—
the fragrances blend into a narcotic infusion
one wants never to end (9)
and the reader is instantaneously transported to the glorious garden, to the blossoming of spring, and to a warm and windy day, as drunk on her words as she is on Covello’s garden. Mandel’s manipulation of descriptive vocabulary walks with the reader, hand-in-hand, exploring and discovering alongside her.
Mandel’s poetic themes range from self-reflection and tranquility to appreciating the outdoors, the overwhelming power of natural forces, and the inevitable passage of time. These concrete poems offer wonderful literal accounts of Covello’s garden as the reader meanders through the paths with Mandel’s words directing us where to look. The poems are so clear and crisp that the photographs pale in comparison. Busy and lacking focus, many of the photos distract the reader from what really shines in this collection: Mandel’s poetry.
She lifts you up, places you in the garden, and describes to you exactly what she is thinking about. In “Crowd and Cloud,” she writes:
a colony of erect
stretching to see and be seen,
a crowd of many
displaying a single hue (45)
aligning our line of vision with her own. The photograph to the left of this poem offers a picture-perfect likeness of Mandel’s painted words. Her imagery reminds the reader to see look closely at the details, to listen for every subtle sound, and to stop and smell the blooming beauty all around. “Be warned by the sounds of hardworking bees,” she exclaims, and the reader hears the bees; “Hot winds scrape the cheeks,” she describes, and the listener feels the brush of air across the face; “Flowering ground cover/Fragrant blend of pine, mushroom, and laurel–,” she remembers, and the onlooker smells the earthy sweetness while standing next to her (45, 47, 15).
Although the poetry leaps off the page, many of the angles of the photographs fail to enliven the garden or the landscape Mandel so poignantly explains. The dullness of the color due to the flat paper halts the images from bursting from the page. But Mandel’s nature chants captivate the reader’s attention, as she walks through appreciating Covell’s lovely landscaping.
Any reader craving gloriously simple poetry will find a haven in Through a Garden Gate, but these poems are not for the reader craving philosophical meanderings or flowery metaphors. Short, sweet, and to the point, this collection rocks the reader into a state of peace and relaxation.
The poetry in Through a Garden Gate are the perfect rainy day readings, as Mandel’s impressive display of adjectives push Covello’s gate ajar for a slow, Sunday stroll. This collection is a nice read for nature lovers, gardeners and visual stimulus junkies.