Before the Borderless: Dialogues with the Art of Cy Twombly

Dean Rader

“Rader’s prismatic and experimental latest . . . transcends descriptive or observational commentary to engage with the work of visual artist Twombly in psychic conversation. . . . Loss reverberates in these striking pages that thoughtfully and innovatively consider Twombly’s work while highlighting the echoes and tensions between poetry and painting.”—Publishers Weekly

In 2018, just a few weeks after his father’s death, Dean Rader made a pilgrimage to the Gagosian Gallery in New York to see a retrospective of Cy Twombly’s work, In Beauty It is Finished: Drawings 1951-2008. The exhibit led to a poem that would become the genesis of this book — from loss and fear to regret and beauty, Before the Borderless: Dialogues with the Art of Cy Twombly reaches for the embodiment of emotion and the aesthetics of possibility. 

Through a range of experimental forms, including a series of octets, Rader writes to magnify/decode/complicate/question the gestures and energies of 50 Cy Twombly drawings and paintings. He reaches past observation and admiration to create a game of echolocation, reflecting Twombly’s infinite scrawls as “saddle stitch, spaghetti curl, white whirl.” Even as Rader searches for proximity, examining the gaps between symbols and what they signify, the collection remains unmistakably autobiographical. From the wheatfields of his Western Oklahoma upbringing to questions of loss—first his father and then his mother, who passed only weeks after Rader finished the manuscript for this book—the poems in Before the Borderless are both elegy and prayer, for Rader’s parents, for his children, for the world.

ISBN: 9781556596759

Format: Hardcover

About the Author

Dean Rader has written, edited, or co-edited eleven books. His debut collection of poems, Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and Landscape Portrait Figure Form (2014) was named a Best Poetry Book by The Barnes & Noble Review. Three books appeared in 2017: Suture, collaborative poems written with Simone Muench (Black Lawrence Press); Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, edited with Brian Clements and Alexandra Teague (Beacon); and Self-Portrait as …

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“In this extended exercise in ekphrasis, Rader presents lyrics, prose poems, and experimental forms that interrogate the artwork of the eponymous American painter, sculptor, and photographer. Bright images of Twombly’s creations appear throughout the collection followed by Rader’s response. The poems meditate on Twombly’s use of color and imagery and the philosophical questions raised by each piece as well as speak to Twombly himself in letters addressed to the artist. . . . The collection considers what it means to be an artist, the connections between visual art and poetry, and the way art can function as a mirror for the audience, becoming a tool for self-reflection.” —Poets & Writers

“Rader’s responses to Twombly’s elegiac body of work are as physical and emotionally ignited as they are intellectually apprehended. . . . His poems glitter and bestow knowledge derived from the surrounding art of Twombly. In turn, Twombly’s images invite us to appreciate the visual movement of Rader’s poems. Just as Rader’s elegiac unknown waves ‘its wand, / and a beam of light disappears into the sky’s black hat,’ the living conversation of poems and paintings in Before the Borderless puts the reader in touch with the ‘everything [they] need to know.’”—Elena Karina Byrne, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Ekphrastic poetry is a form that isn’t about the shape or rhyme or meter of the poem, but about the poetry’s subject: visual art. In this case, Dean Rader worked his way through the art of Cy Twombly and created this stunning collection of poetry” —Book Riot

“Given that ‘art both fills and empties a life,’ Rader deliberates on what any artist’s medium can offer the grieving, what meaning is presented or refused by light, color, repetition, depth, time, or silence. But he also hopes the eclipses and asymptotes of language present more than elegy for the grieved.”—Cindy Juyoung Ok, Harriet Books at the Poetry Foundation