The Invention of Perspective, by G. L. Ford, reviewed by William Owen

G. L. Ford's 'The Invention of Perspective' is a chapbook-length poem based largely upon the theoretical works of two early Renaissance artists: 'On Painting' by architect (among other things) Leon Battista Alberti (a free copy of which can be found online in both English and Latin: and painter Piero della Francesca's 'On Perspective in Painting.' Alberti, architect of the Tempio Malatestiano (, and Francesca, painter of the Flagellation (, authored these texts (Francesca's being a continuation of Alberti's) in order to create a theoretical framework for what would be 'perspective:' an elevated position of the self, whose observations were justified and perfected by means of a geometric assessment of the objects observed so as to revitalize what Alberti termed 'nature,' which was almost synonymous with science. Almost synonymous, as Alberti and Francesca, unlike de Vinci, heavily influenced by the aesthetic set out in these works, were still working under the seemingly contrary ideas the soul, the God of the Middle Ages and a beauty that was not necessarily related to scientific and mathematical representation when they speak of nature.

G. L. Ford in 'The Invention of Perspective' is writing a poem that walks through the spiritual justification of just such an invention (thankfully leaving out the mathematics that were such a large part of that approach), marveling at the moments in which the discourse shows itself to be filled with potential, while at the same time preserving quite a bit of the rhetoric that has dated that moment.


It is not simply that you must accept
that there exists a correspondence
between the lines you observe
and those you describe;

it is demonstrable,
a fact of geometry,
that the eye accepts
rather than creates.

-Or state the problem thus:
it is not in disputations
on natural things
that we must rely on faith. 

The poem seems, at many moments, to be in a sort of conversation with metaphysical poetry: there is a general and a specific that continually flow into one another. All of the weight of the poem seems wrapped up in an understanding of the general, yet, as the poem is mimicking works of pedagogy and instruction, the purpose of the general is the generation of specifics, specific paintings in this case. The cascades of 'you' are both a bane and a pleasure, as they are very specific instructions on what to do and what not to do, from the source of a kind of school master, but they also call on the 'you' to discover the truth that the instruction flows out of; not a looking inward, but an assessment of looking outward.

It is hard to get around the high, removed tone of the Renaissance, the tone makes no attempt to escape anachronism; the voice of the poem is male, educated, and several centuries removed. I adore this book, but its relevance is a question that must be answered while reading.

"The hand," more or less its own character in the poem, is typewritten on the blue cover of the book, produced and hand numbered (in latin characters) in an edition of 25 made specially for the Ugly Duckling reading at the Old American Can Factor. If you want a copy, ask around, quite a few greeners were there.

A pair of pages from the book:

Distance breed degradation,
a thing's true form less and less clear
the farther you become.

Make it a metaphor, if you like,
to discuss the nature of God
or the fickleness of lovers.

Meditate upon it a while,
and see if it isn't true
that your only real loves

have been near to hand,
that all your lusting after hidden things,
the occult and out-of-reach,

has been  no more than the sad groping
of your small sad heart
to find the impossible: itself.

The fact remains, despite you,
that you can't very well see
things that are far away.


Since it is all but impossible
to convey the turbid quality of air,

you must use other figures, instead.

If on the cathedral's transept
there stands an angel
and a kestrel often perches 
on the flute of its trumpet,
do not simply illustrate a bird peering down,
but capture it at the moment when,
talons asplay and wings beating,
every feather forces itself
upon flight's unseen and potent medium:

show that there is effort
in the act of coming to rest.

Think also how you might show,
in that gesture,

whether the day is cold or warm. 


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