We are all artists—
casting spells here and there
leaving a part of ourselves
-from the poem “Letter”
With the collection of 39 poems in Driving through Paintings, writer and artist Leslie Klein invites us on a thoughtful, often intimate, journey through moments spanning her life from childhood onward. Throughout her graceful, introspective book, Klein’s observations and insights on nature, family, and life feel genuine, approachable, and universal–a bit like coffee with a friend.
As a reader, I appreciate how her sensibility as a visual artist creates a framework for her writing. I felt almost guided by a sense of quiet exploration created by the poems, the vintage postcard art, the typeface, and even the page layout.
The poems themselves are a bit like Impressionist paintings in words. I can almost imagine them stretched out across the walls of a gallery. Each piece captures and preserves the author’s impression of a particular moment in time. “Remembered reverently / in color, texture and light” (from her poem “Prologue”).
While some poetry, especially these days, can feel like it is shouting challenges at us, this collection is more an invitation to a good conversation. Klein skillfully keeps that inviting sense in her works even when one of her poems touches on collective difficult moments, like those in “On that Day” or the kind of family complexities mentioned in “Giving Thanks” or “Meeting Lenny at Benihana.”
One aspect of the collection that occasionally distracted me was not being able to figure out why the poems appear in the book in the order they do. Both the structure of the table of contents and the title “Driving Through Paintings” seem to imply a topical or sequential journey of some kind. Readers who have a need for order in experience may try to find the narrative connections between/among the poems.
Leslie Klein sees the world with an artist’s eyes and, in this book, distills those clear-eyed observations into words encompassing all of life’s intriguing and confronting juxtapositions: grief and joy, loss and discovery, laughter and pain. To me, it’s the juxtapositions that make life, and this collection of poems, so very rich.