Gene Beyt and Edward Dupuy
Word and image, sound and light, (and their opposites, silence and darkness)—the subtle, surprising conjunctions of these elements provide the special rewards of this intimate collection of poems and photographs by two artists, Edward Dupuy and Gene Beyt.
Dupuy is the poet, Beyt the photographer. But by the end of the volume, the reader might wonder if the labels can be so exclusively applied. The collaborators’ act of pairing specific images with specific poems is itself poetic, deriving not from any need for literal illustration but from something far more subtle, the desire to suggest a shared state of mind or soul.
Consider one such pairing. On Coming Home shows a simple family dining area—a square wooden table, covered with a checkered tablecloth, and three well-used wooden chairs arrayed at various angles around the table. In the foreground, in front of the table, looking forlornly abandoned, is a child’s tricycle. To its right are two small toys: a little wooden arch and a plastic ring. In the background, to the left of the table, as though flattened by the weight of the day, lies a Raggedy Andy doll, face up. The whole tableau is lit by a single, overhead light, which turns the top of the table into a flat diamond of white. Flatness, exhaustion, abandonment: so announce the familiar objects at the day’s end.
The poem that accompanies this photograph begins:
The speaker proceeds to express his longing for a transforming grace that will make things new, not the specious newness that is spewed forth in the “processed culture” but the newness that comes with the poet’s naming, a naming that makes the familiar strange, or “wholly new.”
The poem, when we finish it, directs our attention back to the image. What can call forth the soul of these objects, assemble them into something new?
The answer, of course, is the light. As it strikes the top of the table, it is too hard, too direct, too glaring for tired, late-evening eyes. But now that we look a little more carefully, we notice that it does something gentler with the chair to the left of the table: that same light, perhaps because its reflected off the table top, caresses the chair, revealing the marks of wear and use, as well as the easeful contours of the seat. This throne of the everyday suddenly becomes inviting, a place where the weary may sit and be restored. The “chairness of the chair,” as Rilke or even Plato might have said, becomes more visible, more palpable, the longer you stay with it.
The chair does something else. It becomes a means of conveyance beyond the flatness and exhaustion of the day. It moves us toward the tricycle, joining the parent who is not there with the child who is not there, bringing them closer together, in a way, than if both were present. The strangeness is the way in which the absences become more haunting, more poignant, more alive than even living presences could be. One almost expects Raggedy Andy to turn his head and wink a conspiratorial wink. We are all in on something together, something intimate and, in the best sense, familiar.
Such relationships between poem and picture establish themselves throughout this volume, sometimes obviously, sometimes cryptically. The reader/viewer may even forge connections that Dupuy and Beyt never saw or intended, or he may go away from some pairings completely baffled. The discoveries and the bafflements are equally provocative. And they are instrumental to Dupuy and Beyt’s larger goal of defamiliarizing the ordinary in order to make it visible and new—and indeed to bring it to life. This is what might properly be called sacramental art, and the collaborators’ mentor in its practice, Walker Percy (whose influence is directly acknowledged in many places throughout the volume), almost certainly would have approved. The poet and the photographer remind us, again and again, of all that we miss in our quotidian lives.
Jay Tolson, Editor of The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia
Eddie Dupuy is a poet. He received his doctorate in English from Louisiana State University, is published as a literary reviewer and critic, and is the author of Autobiography in Walker Percy: Repetition, Recovery, and Redemption. He is past Dean of Graduate Studies, Savannah College of Art and Design, and served as the founding Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, Texas. Eddie now lives in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
“In this beautiful volume of poems and photographs, Edward Dupuy and Gene Beyt offer a profound meditation on the mysteries of time and memory that reveal the quotidian reality of our lives.”
John F. Desmond, Emeritus Professor of English, Whitman College, and author of Walker Percy’s Search for Community