The poems of Barrier Island Suite are inspired by the life, art, and writings of Walter Inglis Anderson, who spent much of his adult life exploring the barrier islands of Mississippi, sketching and painting their flora and fauna, and chronicling his adventures in numerous logs. The islands form a liminal space between the land and sea, between nature and culture, between madness and conformity. Elements of the Anderson’s life, including his travels, his struggles with mental illness, and his murals at Oldfields, the Ocean Springs Public School and Community Center, and the cottage at Shearwater Pottery are also incorporated.
Praise for Barrier Island Suite
Less known for its painters and poets than for its novelists and musicians, Mississippi has for the last two hundred years contributed freely to the annals of eccentricity, of oddball genius and madness. To the unfortunate reader unfamiliar not merely with the work but with the character of the painter Walter Anderson, Kendall Dunkelberg’s Barrier Island Suite will serve as an admirable introduction; to diehard Anderson fans (such as myself) it is an amplification of the mystery. This excellent book does a nearly impossible job: it yokes together the interiority of a very unusual artist while simultaneously observing him from the outside, giving us a portrait of “the artist…at one with creation for an afternoon, bathed in gentle sunlight.” Perhaps never truly at home on earth, Anderson is finally granted by these poems a place where “The four edges/of his sail blow to the four corners of his dream.”
T.R. Hummer, author of Skandalon (LSU Press)
In Barrier Island Suite, Kendall Dunkelberg conjures the life and works of Walter Anderson with the precision and insight of a lyrical biographer and naturalist. The Mississippi back-bays and river and creek systems with their blue crabs, channel cats, bulrushes, mangroves, egrets, and “Mississippi / kites flashing their tails in a warm stiff breeze,” which inspired Anderson’s watercolors and writings, scuttle and lean and wing and whisker and stalk to life. The most impressive quality of the collection, however, is how the poems probe the landscape of Anderson’s mind: his artistic sensibility and madness, his Taoist mysticism and obsession with the cycles of nature.
Adam Vines, author of The Coal Life (University or Arkansas Press)
Both dedicated fans of Walter Anderson’s and people encountering his art for the first time will find much to admire in Kendall Dunkelberg’s Barrier Island Suite. Through research (historical, geological, biographical) and closely observed detail, Dunkelberg immerses us in this vivid world. He brings before us the flora and fauna of the Gulf coast waterways, as well as insights into a troubled, troubling genius whose art—like Dunkelberg’s—rewards attention.
Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Unmentionables (W. W. Norton)
Having spent more than forty years wading through the illusions and delusions surrounding my father, I am gratified to find someone who has the creative vision and confidence to portray him honestly. You reveal unusual sensitivity to the complexity of his life.