A Riff on the Color Blue
by Stuart Vail, Editor-in Chief
The Blue Museum by Phil Cousineau
Sisyphus Press, September 2004
In early Christian times, the liturgical colors were black, gray, brown, red, violet, and dark green, meant to convey suffering and grief. Blue was considered barbaric and evil. In fact,
most Cistercian churches were devoid of color, and it wasnt until the twelfth century that the powerful Abbot Suger (of the abbey of St. Denis), who believed that color was a manifestation
of God, was able to bring the full palette back into the church. It was under his realm that a specific blue was developed by stained-glass artisans to depict the robe of Mary, which later
led to Kings adopting blue as a popular royal color.
In todays Western culture the color has many associations: sky blue, midnight blue, baby blue, navy blue, royal blue, Blue Ribbon, Blue Monday, blue blood, feeling blue, the Blues,
true blue, a brides something blue, Bluebook, out of the blue, Old Blue Eyes, a robins egg, and Old Glorys red, white, and blue. It can be calming and soothing,
yet in Iran it is the color of mourning.
Phil Cousineaus The Blue Museum is his first book of poetry since his astounding Deadlines: A Rhapsody on a Theme of Famous and Infamous Last Words, published in 1991
(Part II appeared in this magazine). The title was inspired by his perceiving an aura of blue around his wife’s pregnant belly
before she gave birth and around their young son, Jackie Blue, ever since.
Cousineau is not a jazz musician, yet he thinks and writes as one. The protégé of Joseph Campbell, he journeys into the deep recesses of Soul, weaving mythology into his very
personal stories as he riffs through words and phrases with his horn-of-choice, the pen.
In reading Cousineaus poetry I can imagine distant strains from Miles Davis Kind of Blue playing in the background. Its a sweet irony that one of my favorite
soulful jazz albums aligns so perfectly with these works by a man who has been writing about Soul all his life. Of his 19 books, Soul is in the title of four, and through them
all, soul pervades.
Two poems from The Blue Museum first appeared in the January
2004 issue of this magazine, Music in the Wood, and Memoricide. Of the latter, Cousineau writes, This poem was first written the night of the bombing of
the Sarajevo Library, as others have been moved to immortalize the tragic night. See the Serb poet Goran Simics poem, Sarajevo, especially the lines Set free from
the stacks / characters wandered the streets / Mingling with passers-by and souls of dead soldiers. Another link to Soul. And yet another in Cousineaus Earthbones:
The aborigines say when you die you go sky,
when you in trouble you go forward
into outback, you dig up your stone
you bury it where no one can find
it but you, and before you dont
know it, youll be out of
trouble. Or so says
painter, to me
on the Sydney
I can dig,
down to the
depths of my soul
that, he says, as we journey
toward the ruined world, looking
for clues to restore our perdurable
secrets. Yes, the aborigines say when
you die you go sky, but I dont know,
I only know when you live your sapphire
blue soul is flung like an earthbone boomeranging
from one world to another and back again, over and over.
Traveling figures greatly in Cousineaus writings, for he has traversed the globe many times in the last thirty years. His The Book of Roads vividly brings to the reader the
smell of fresh bread in the little town of Colares, Portugal; the soft, ginger-colored light in an ancient amphitheater in southern Turkey; and the sounds of rebeks, tambourines,
and goatskin drums near the Djama el Fna plaza in Marrakesh. When Cousineau writes of place, he owns every step of the way. Those are his footprints, yet he allows readers
to slip their feet into the still-warm impressions, giving one the sense of being there and smelling, seeing, and hearing the richness of his travels.
The Blue Museum is equally itinerant with its visits, in Part I alone, to Alexandria, Dublin, Genoa, Cannes, Sonoma, and Detroit. It consists of galleries containing a great collection
of things blue: a blue guitar in Fretting, the watery world of Proteus, Van Goghs seeking for blue in Vincents Search, and Anna
Akhmatova, waiting for hours outside a St. Petersburg prison to see her incarcerated husband, who saw a woman with bluish lips standing in line behind her in Bluish.
He plays with the word in The Strange Flow of Synchronicity:
Mama told me money didnt grow on trees.
Papa talked a blue streak to me about the way he blew it,
Adding, contritely, that I better hold onto it because it had wings
And would fly out of my pockets as if it had a mind of its own.
And The Samurai Poet ends with:
On the wooden planks
where he had been standing
there is a dusky blue light,
like the afterglow left
by a conflagration of fireflies
who spent the last night
of their short-fused lives
flaring forth light
in a world of
Cousineaus Museum presents blue in ways far more eloquent than did I in the second paragraph of this review. With each succeeding poem
it is a delight to see how he approaches the color, stated or not. Had I another hand, I would rate this book three thumbs up.
Please visit Phil Cousineaus website for information on how to buy the book, signed by the author:
Painting: antique oil on board, artist unknown.