Etching the Ghost, by Cathleen Cohen

Poet and painter Cathleen Cohen artfully paints a compelling sequence of scenes and portraits encompassing joy, freedom, violence, trauma, and the challenge of facing mortality: one’s own as well as that of lost or faltering beloveds. In Cohen’s skillful hands, poems become an occasion for questioning – “How long will we last / as witness, as echo?” – and for cherishing what the speaker tries to “… hold then release / into brushstrokes.” Cohen vividly depicts a search for healing and wholeness, promising, “If air shatters / into fault lines and shards / I will reach / to collect what flies out / and give voice.” Cohen’s book deftly weaves a multifaceted tapestry of lived experiences through poems that will break your heart and stir your soul.

– Dilruba Ahmed, author of Bring Now the Angel

Cathleen Cohen writes of “trying to paint this landscape / without myself in it,” distilling a familiar ideal of aesthetic objectivity, of abstraction released from realistic depiction. Yet even as she imagines “the line / sketching itself,” Cohen is sharply aware of a deeper ineradicable subjectivity, a “jitter,” a “twitch,” “glints and shards / I can’t obscure.” In poems that anatomize abuse as “a knot I can’t / unknot,” Cohen demonstrates how art transforms the devastating into the crucial. Thus “can’t unknot” becomes “can’t obscure.” Thus “my stiffening tongue” loosens to speak eloquently. “I love distortions,” Cohen writes – and how essential to our human understanding are the supposed “distortions” of subjective art.

– Nathalie F. Anderson, author of Stain

Cathleen Cohen picked up a pen. The point ? To tell the truth. She picked up a brush. Two different arts. Two different methods of working, but what looks simple is more complex than you might think. As a matter of fact, don’t think. Feel and know. Some people will avoid the truth by calling it Art. By saying it’s beautiful. They won’t be wrong but they could go for more. Cohen just says it as it is in words and in watercolors. Don’t miss her! Don’t miss this book.

– Fran Quinn

Painters create using the syntax of tone, line, mass and space. Layering is a key element, particularly in watercolors. Images may retreat or surface through layers of paint. Compositions may be clearly mapped or obscured. Such dynamics animate the work of Cathleen Cohen, painter and writer.

Cohen was the 2019 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, PA. She created the We the Poets project of ArtWell, an arts education nonprofit that has served thousands of children. She received the Interfaith Relations Award from the Montgomery County PA Human Rights Commission and the Public Service Award from National Association of Poetry Therapy.

In Etching the Ghost, Cohen presents painting as a lens and an instrument, a way to view life and make meaning. This collection explores the images that accompany one painter while she makes art, teaches and raises family. Violence also speaks through these poems. But painting (like poetry) is also a vessel which can hold trauma as it is absorbed and transformed.

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