Tiptoeing Through Paris, Picnic on the Print, and Pushing the High Note – by Barbara Johnson Chase

Barbara Johnson Chase’s three books of art and poetry are books to have on hand for a quiet moment of reflection or escapism. Some poems are a single stanza, while others go for multiple pages, allowing the books and artwork to fill the down-time available to the reader. As a combination of art and poetry, they can be enjoyed one day for their poetry and another for their art – although they’re best enjoyed together as the illustrations and the poetry complement each other. 

Mostly written in rhyming couplets, Chase plays with voice and perspective. Her individual style breaks the rules and can be used to throw the reader off balance or draw their attention to a new idea or character. But they are equally not difficult poems to read. There is no need for qualifications in literature analysis to break down complex themes and deep emotions. It’s a more traditional, simpler style of poetry that just asks you to enjoy it and if it makes you think, it’s a bonus.

Tiptoeing through Paris

Tiptoeing through Paris is a lyrical collection of vignettes about Paris told through the detail of an artist’s and a poet’s eye for the streets around her. It embraces Paris’ moniker of the City of Light by embracing themes of light and taking us on a journey around the city both day and night.

It’s like sitting in a café and people watching. You can see the snapshots of Paris in your mind’s eye as Chase’s eye for detail outlines small moments and observations and crafts them into words and pictures.

We’ve all witnessed (or been guilty of) the piece Overturned (usually with shopping bags, if you’re me), which is twinned with the artwork Balancing Act of a woman carrying a dramatically tall pile of books up a staircase.

For lack of time and patience,

with proclivity for schleps,

her cumbrous load was overturned

while going up the steps.

Or there’s her elegant description of a duck gliding across a pond in Tout va Bien, a scene many of us have stopped to watch but takes the poet to put into words:

Your feathers smooth, unruffled,

have a lustrous glow.

Head high above the water.

Feet paddling hard below.

Picnic on the Print

Picnic on the Print hints at nostalgia and times that have passed. In comparison to Tiptoeing through Paris, it tells longer stories that are more like portraits than vignettes. No longer limited to Paris, Picnic reads more like a poet’s travel diary of people and places.

The illustrations are sometimes whimsical, sometimes thought-provoking, and the illustrations of people have eyes that stare back from the page. The artwork the Scarf accompanied by Compliments profiles a woman who is so self-aware it feels like she knows you’re reading about her:

The flow of its movement

matched that of her hips,

the red of its roses

matched that of her lips.

But my favourite from this collection is Vine Dweller for its invitation to participate in the observation of the portrait’s subject:

Come follow me on tiptoe

behind the garden fence.

I’ve someone there to show you

in jungle green and dense.

Pushing the High Note

Pushing the High Note takes us on a personal journey of identity and inquiry – but whose journey? The poet’s or the reader’s?

It talks of others but feels like it’s of the self; the collection starts with a poem about creating and concludes with a poem about presence and leaving a mark.

Although embracing a theme of self-discovery, High Note doesn’t bring the mood down and retains the whimsy of the other books while reminding us of the importance of our own thoughts. Gravity reads almost like a mantra for living, with a cheeky reminder to seek fun in the serious:

Defying that which weighs you down

requires uplifting thought.

Unless you live in outer space

and are an astronaut.

While Sea of Dreams stays with you and reminds us to retain the joy and imagination of a child:

Takes an able-bodied seaman

to sail the seven seas.

Takes a child’s imagination

to navigate pond’s breeze.

In all three books, the accompanying illustrations vary in style, which maintains freshness and unpredictability to the collection. They also vary in colour and tone, which can both fit and mold the mood of the observer.

Although the poems were enjoyable for their escapism and reflection, I was most enamoured by the artwork.

Here you can purchase these beautiful books as francophile gifts:

Here you can purchase in eBook format (Note: this is not Amazon Kindle format):

Barbara Johnson Chase’s artwork can be found and purchased here.

Do you enjoy poetry? We’re sure that you’ll love these unique pieces as we did. Tiptoeing through Paris and the other two books take us back to Paris in such a refreshingly different manner. No clichés to be found here.

Image credits:
All copyright Barbara Johnson Chase

About the Contributor

Bethany Keats

I'm a former journalist who currently works in media relations. Originally from Geelong, Victoria, Australia, I now live in Townsville, Queensland and I usually visit France once or twice a year.

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