My Dim Aviary
Black Lawrence Press, 2016 (book)
Through the voice of Miss Fernande—Parisian model, prostitute, rumored mistress of Picasso—Gillian Cummings creates a series of exquisite prose poems, thick with longing, loneliness, and corporal beauty. “What color would God clothe me but red?” Cummings asks, offering the body as both wound and source of pleasure, and later, “There is a place the soul goes when the body is a field lost to burning.” My Dim Aviary is that place. Reader, I implore you to visit.
—Allison Benis White
Written under the sign of cauchemar, nightmare, My Dim Aviary inhabits and envoices the mind of the mysterious Fernande, the model who posed for photographer Jean Agélou’s erotic postcards. Creating a voluptuary with humane intent and pathos, Cummings channels Fernande: “So you can guess what I smell like, so you can have more than a glimpse of the girl who won’t, though she undresses, unfold herself from the flat paperboard of the card.” In prose poems of Pre-Raphaelite opulence, lexically rich and layered with French, Cummings blurs the distinction between sacred and profane, the cusp of childhood and adulthood, the divide between voyeurism and performance. These poems return the reader to the kharis in “eucharist,” the offering of grace, because “If beauty becomes unbearable, then there’s ruin for the world’s welter of white …” At times almost unbearably lavish, at times harrowing in their exposure of abuse and exploitation, these poems unsettle the nightmare with hope: “Maybe in what you cannot forgive, a small space opens, like the first glimpse of blue when clouds break after weeks of rain.”
Few books offer the rigor and delirium of myth. Few books are both dreamt and crafted. Gillian Cummings has written one. Her words themselves seem to tremble with the ache of individuation, the estrangement of sexuality–“a swan gouging its breast with its bill.” Searing in its originality, My Dim Aviary is a masterful conception, a trance, a prayer of abandonment.
dancing girl press, 2016 (chapbook)
available at: dancing girl press
Petals as an Offering in Darkness
Finishing Line Press, 2014 (chapbook)
What a modestly beautiful book this is!–the emphasis being on both its modest nature and its depth of beauty. This is a collection of poems dedicated wholly to God—not to God’s namesake nor to any creed, but a work that wonders, humbly, about faith in a midst of uncertain beauty. The poems are shaped, craft-wise, beseeching, and stunningly earth-bound. Cummings’ imagery is an alleluhia; the writing is a graceful epistle, in the Rilkean sense: true letters sent to us and to that Unknown Known. I will read and re-read Petals as an Offering in Darkness as I wait for Gillian Cummings’ next book.
–Kate Knapp Johnson, author of Wind Somewhere, and Shade
“Tell me, tell me what will last,” begins one poem in Petals as an Offering in Darkness, by Gillian Cummings. Here is what will last: these poems. Cummings’ voice is a rare blend of the humble and the visionary. Indelibly she paints the complex splendors of earth, and the questions they pose about spirit, both in this life and beyond. Cummings writes of “the brushstrokes of Monet’s Japanese bridge,/where bridge dissolves into no-bridge as if paint/were true fire and burned through the seen/with the force of the artist’s yearning.” Any good reader will be left yearning for the next collection by Gillian Cummings.
–Suzanne Cleary, author of Beauty Mark
Spirits of the Humid Cloud
dancing girl press, 2012 (chapbook)
no longer available
In Spirits of the Humid Cloud, Gillian Cummings’ cloud girls / ghost girls / doll girls / god girls sing and swing through the sky, skimming the winding syntax that ravels and unravels in her sonnet-like poems. I suggest you read this book aloud, letting it lift you in the air, rising “your sore soul, up, / into the realm of curvy bodies like cumulous / blossoms, unbuttoned blooms.” Cummings’ work is “like hope tumbling out of its soft bed,” like “the empty field of grasses: fescue, feverfew, broom sedge under blue:” it is full of the “particulars [that] make boundlessness bearable.” I cannot recommend this collection of whimsy and song, girlhood and sky, more highly.
—Claudia Cortese, author of WASP QUEEN