The Obscure Substance of the Sky/ poetry by Alicia Wirt-Fox/ book review by Laurence Carr

Alicia Wirt-Fox is a muti-talent: poet, visual artist, writer, designer, educator. For her book The Obscure Substance of Sky, (Codhill Press, 2023) she’s tapped into her poetry and painting skills to create an engaging volume that stimulates our intellectual and the emotional lives.

The book drew me in from the beginning, dividing into three sections: “The Obscure”; “Substance”; and “of the Sky”. Many of the poems within these three sections didn’t literally relate to their topics, and to be sure, the poems in the first section are not oblique, but there is a subtle veil of meaning that brings the three groupings of poems together. 

Before the poems begin, there is an uncredited epigram (I presume is the author’s): “For all the creatures who remain hidden.” This, along with the book’s title and the interior section titles set us up for what is to come: a journey of observation and discovery of those things in our world often overlooked then interpreted by the author/artist and shared with the reader. I must mention another major component of the book: Ms Wirt-Fox’s fifteen oil paintings reproduced throughout. Most of the images directly relate to the poems that follow while others are more elusive and act as a bridge between poems. The paintings are representational images of our world but are not produced in a photographic sense. Instead, they straddle the real and the dreamlike worlds, both recognizable and impressionistic.


I admired the simple, accessible language and when connected with the images, I was taken to a place where image and text join to create a deeper state and where I could bring up my own memories from my well of misplaced moments. 

The writer leads us gently through time and space, down a path that resonates universal observations with poems such as “Mountain”:


I stand
before the mountain
and I am hushed. 

A space opens. 

And everything
that I once call myself 

 Then brings us into more personal, introspective spaces, as in lines from the poem, “Bell”: 

Accompanied by the
awareness of death and life,
being no place, 
	      no where,
in sound.

I was silence sung in a moment—
my body singing like a bell. 

These transitions are never jarring but move us from one stream of thought to another. Our own past memories and present observations interweave with the writer’s. This volume is a perfect coming together of text and image, each enhancing the other. And it brings to mind a previous “mini-book” of Ms. Wirt-Fox’s text and images: Missives (also by Codhill Press 2009), a prelude to the current volume. I trust that Alicia Wirt-Fox’s, The Obscure Substance of Sky, will reach a wide, and enthusiastic audience. It can be appreciated by those who connect with poetry, art and the interconnection of the two to create a meaningful experience.


Alicia Wirt-Fox was born in Chicago, Illinois. She received a BFA from Parsons School of Design in 1987 and MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1997. Her first collection of poetry and paintings entitled Missives was published by Codhill Press in 2009. She wrote a series of poems for the book Blind Date which incoporated the photographs of Alan Barnett published in 2012. She is a recipient of the 19th Annual Richard Kelly Grant for her experimental work utilizing reflective light and color within the context of painting. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and currently lives and works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s