In a combination of discourse and lyric, paragraph and couplet, Bay Area poet and novelist Laura Moriarty explicates the poetics of a group of writers that resists categorization. This book-length essay uses the work of the California Tonalist painters to articulate new understanding and new possibilities for poetic practice.
Always synesthetic, always formally relentless, in A Tonalist, Moriarty manages to keep a penetrating ethical-philosophical inquiry alive within a lyric terrain.
Moriarty’s A Tonalist explores–in appropriately trans-generic form–the shades, timbres, and temporalities of affinity with a warmth and intelligence rarely encountered in this age of ironic overdetermination. This is, simply put, a moving and vital book.
In A Tonalist, Moriarty bravely tries to define what she and her poetry-kin attempt to accomplish as artists. That very action of framing immediately meets resistance as it seems every poet but herself is reluctant to be included as A Tonalist. Brilliantly, that very resistance and hesitation to be grouped reflects the A Tonalist. Through a mixture of herding together poets such as Norma Cole, Nathaniel Dorsky, Andrew Joron, Jen Hofer and Patrick Durgin, even DJ Spooky, and a linguistic investigation of the modes of inquiry of the original tonalist painters, Moriarty presents a version of contemporary poetics which prizes color, illumination, and lyric poetry which does not forsake politics or contemporary reality.
Moriarty’s definitions of A Tonalist are both achingly broad and disarmingly accurate and there are few statements of what it is to be A Tonalist without immediately undercutting the assertion. One of the closest we get is also my favorite: “Some people write lyric poetry because they just want to and think it is great. Some write it though they think it impossible. The latter are A Tonalists.”
Laura Moriarty was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Northern California. She attended the University of California at Berkeley. She was the Director …