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Dean Rader’s poetry collection is in dialogue with the ghosts of people you have loved and lost.

Updated: 5 days ago

Dean Rader is a poet, art writer, scholar, and critic who has published widely in the fields of poetry, American Indigenous studies, modern and contemporary art, and visual culture.  His debut collection of poems,Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize, was a finalist for the Bob Bush Memorial Award for a First Book of Poems, and won the 2010 Writer's League of Texas Poetry Prize. His follow-up book, Landscape Portrait Figure Form(Omnidawn), was named by the Barnes & Noble Review as one of the Best Poetry Books of 2013. His most recent solo project is Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and the Northern California Book Award.


The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire 

and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be 

consumed by the fire of his own creation. 

-Auguste Rodin

Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, 

you will live along some distant day into your answers. 

-Rainer Maria Rilke



The first time I came into contact with Dean Radar was during the most recent CLMP

FIRECRACKER Awards. For the past few years, I have been one of the rate/reviewers for the poetry finalists. (Well technically, as he reminded me when I reached out to him about reviewing his project for Hominum, I had met him briefly in 2022 in Los Angeles at an author’s event my MFA mentor, Kate Gale, was hosting at her Red Hen Press Auditorium.) The world is so very small sometimes. When I clicked on his file in Submittable that FIRECRACKER had sent me, I first thought it was a mistake. As I do, I immediately began skimming through the manuscript as a whole to get a feel– and what I saw at first-skimming was a collection of paintings. I was initially very confused. Maybe they had made a mistake. As I scrolled back to the top of the file and tried it again, this time more slowly, I realized that each painting (usually on the left) was paired with a poem (usually on the right).  And I, deeply puzzled and very quizzically interested, began to read the first poem of the first section: Troubled by Thoughts about Infinity and Oblivion, I Exit the Twombly Retrospective at Dusk and Walk the High Line with the Ghost of My Father. Quite a title and I had no clue what I had just walked into. In the opening poem of this mysterious collection, I found myself in a cosmos of words, lines, paint, and longing.

After reading through the collection in its entirety, I began digging–doing some

background research into this writer and came to learn that recently, between 2017-2022, he had lost both his parents. One day, while processing the loss of his parents at a Cy Twombly art museum, the surrounding artwork touched him and moved him into the beginning of this deeply reflective and complex project. I continued reading through the four sections of paired work and ran into reflections of myself. In this collection of paired poetry, we experience, in what feels like real-time, the unraveling of life and death; writing and language; audience and speaker; god and philosophy; and the self vs the self’s thought of self– I know right!?. Dean Radar’s poetry collection is like walking through an art museum gallery in dialogue with the most recent ghosts of people you have loved and lost.  

Section 1: I never really separated painting and literature.

-Cy Twombly

In section one, there are thirteen poems–and immediately we find ourselves immersed in a

cosmic page of text and art. This opening collection of work is the unraveling of the walls between lines and words; format and structure; the relationship between writer and reader, as well as the relationship between Radar and Twombly.

Dear X, Dear Y—

Life, like the sentence, 

ends, but what if the letter is infinite?


Dear Twombly—


  Master of the eternal e, unending o—

what letter would you write to / 

for our country? What sign / what scrawl 

speaks through its own silence into the ear 

of our brightest hearing?

Each poetry-painting-pairing is a portal of access points to gates and dimensions of poetic

forms: concrete, erasure, found, sonnet, and more. Morpheus makes a cameo in the poem Studies for Excursus: “So many have taken both the blue pill and the red pill.” And the section ends with a pyramid of elegies, one stanza each.


S2 S3

S4 S5 S6

S7 S8 S9 S10

Here he is reflecting on his parents, their death, the language and form he is using to

express it on the page, paired with the paintings. And another gem that caught my attention was his call to Rilke, a dear poet to me, in stanza seven. 

Valery. Rilke. Like you,

I am long before

God. Nowhere will world

Be but within us.

Section 2:  All artworks are writing.

-Theador Adorno

In section two, his dialogue continues questioning, seeing, and imagining, including Kant

and The Iliad. On the table: water and fire; god and the void, shadows and angels. The poems become long and epic-like. And it ends again with letters to Cy Twombly, where he pours his heart down the page on his family losses: mother, father, father-in-law, and close friend.

Section 3: What is the deepest loss you have ever suffered?

-Rainer Maria Rilke

In this collection, there is a constant conversation between Radar and what seems like,

perhaps, his internal critic– or something to the like– or something to the difference. Regardless, there is a consistent stream of conscious questioning of each word he lays upon the page: its purpose, reason, intent, defense, explanation, action, and counteraction. The titles especially cast a continuous current of unending and unfinished eternality.

Section 4: Those who depend upon the intellect are the many.

      Those who depend upon the perception alone are the few.

-Agnes Martin

Section four is a letter addressed to us, to Cy, to the reader, perhaps to his parents, to

himself, to all of those, and none of those. What is beautifully strange in his writing of this, is Rilke. Rilke is one of my origin poets, from whom I have been able to recognize, build, and cultivate my own poetic voice. In his section four, Radar references Rilke’s ninth elegy as he writes his way through.

I thought of Rilke, Twombly, my father—that furious trinity of ghosts 

haunting. Helping. Healing. What makes a life? 

For myself, it was the first of Rilke’s elegies that knocked me down the first time I read it:

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,

and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying.

Before the Borderless: Dialogues with the Art of Cy Twombly can be purchased here:


Cid Galicia is a Mexican American poet who has been teaching in New Orleans for over the past decade. He graduated with his MFA summer 2023 through The University of Nebraska Omaha. He is a poetry editor for The Good Life Review, reader for The Kitchen Table Quarterly, and this year's FIRECRACKER Poetry Manuscript Awards. His work has appeared in The Indianapolis Review, The Watershed Review, The Elevation Review, Trestle Ties, South Broadway Press, Roi Faineant Press, The Letter Review, The Peauxdunque Review, and other journals. He was excited to attend the 2023 Summer Writing Residencies of Sundress Publications & The Kenyon Review Summer Writing Workshop.


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