Larissa Shmailo reviews Dean Kostos

  Larissa Shmailo

  On the Nature of Reality, On the Reality of Nature:
  Pierced by Night-Colored Threads by Dean Kostos

  reviewed by Larissa Shmailo
  JPR 08

MadHat Press 2017, 140 pages, $21.95, ISBN 978-1-941196-49-6

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Dean Kostos’s Pierced by Night-Colored Threads presents a new poetic surrealism, steeped in natural history and magical mysteries. Pierced is consciously beautiful, accurate, and quintessentially personal in its artistic perspective. While Kostos’s erudite worldview and polyglot vocabulary brings literary, historical, and contemporary characters to life, it is his unique personal vision (many of his poems speak of eyes) that renders these works “surreal,” transcendent, or of a truer reality.


Each poem in Pierced is a portrait, an ekphrasis with or without a referenced canvas, although Kostos presents traditional ekphrases on Arshile Gorky, Vermeer, the David and others. It is a book populated by stars and seers, a Tarot reading by an adept (each section of the collection contains one or more Tarot-themed “readings”).

US poet Dean Kostos


It is an orchestra of language whose motive is given by the book’s epigram, from Aldous Huxley; that opener of the doors of perception cites the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, pronounced on a battlefield, as the spiritual prerequisite for peace. Pierced then sets out to work its dharma to fight the war within; its weapon, beauty.

Book of poems, by Dean Kostos


Pierced’s dharma hangs by a thread — four Threads, as the four interwoven sections are named, a reference to the threads cut by the Fates, as well as to modern email communication. The opening poem carries Emily Dickinson and the reader to a port on a bed floating dreamlike down a river:


A bed is not a boat, twinned
in water’s reflection, but a vessel into Mind.

 — “The Tender”


Next, we are woven by green lachrymal tendrils to the shade of Pablo Neruda, who said “you have vines and stars in your hair.” Like the narrator of Pierced,


The exiled poet — ambassador of questions
without answers — found
residence in language.

 — “Neruda’s Tears”


Having established his literary guardian angels, Kostos romps through literature and history, offering vivid portraitures of Hebrew prophets, Magdalene, Shiva, and Shekinah. The heavenly hosts sing in the moving chorale “Dialogue: Angel of Peace, Angel of War.”


The centerpiece of Pierced is the imagined correspondence between Carl Jung and Alan Turing in a series of vibrant “postcards” rich in metaphor. In a sestina, Kostos also describes the chemical castration of the gay computer genius, and his suicide:


Injecting an apple with a mathematical
dose of cyanide, I kill my nature —
deemed unnatural — take one
bite, another. My arm grows number.
Vortices in my brain blur language.
A record plays Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, cello strings
sawing through numberless sequences. Human nature’s
one Edenic apple smashes to the floor. Languor gauges
my life’s mathematical string — untying, uniting me.

 — “Messages From The Unseen World: Imagined

     Lost Writings Of Alan Turing”


The poet of Pierced offers received forms including lovely villanelles and ghazals, but is in his element when creating his own nonce forms. The use of rhyme is subtle and elegant (“A star rewrites human charts from afar… A scar rewrites heaven from afar.”). The verse is sculpted, the indentations and line breaks a precise inhalation or exhalation.


Scholars can’t decline
a night sky or a seal-sleek street
                after rain. Translators inhale
                breath from line breaks,
articulate gaps &

conjure words from a face
                pressed into absence.

 — “In Translation”


In the epigram to his abecedarian, “Glossary of Loss,” the poet tells us that “Maya, translated as ‘illusion,’ literally means ‘that which can be measured.’” In Pierced by Night-Colored Threads, we happily measure the angle of the angels dancing on the heads of these poems. Eschewing the maya of the ordinary, Kostos’s new surrealism provides a glance via a remarkable poetic insight into a truer reality, into the unknowable ding an sich.

US poet Larissa Shmailo

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, and critic. Her latest book of poetry is Medusa’s Country.

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