January 20, 2012

Review by Ellen Miller-MackBlinking Ephemeral Valentine by Joni Wallace

BLINKING EPHEMERAL VALENTINE
by Joni Wallace

Four Way Books
POB 535, Village Station
New York, NY 10014
ISBN 978-1-935536-09-3
2009, 68 pp., $15.95
www.fourwaybooks.com

This volume of poems does not require a glossary, but a few definitions could only deepen the enjoyment of Blinking Ephemeral Valentine, starting with its fantastic title. The word “ephemeral” confirms my belief that poets are obsessed with time. From the “e” sound to the final “al,” something is gone forever. Ephemeral is short-lived and transitory, suggesting weightlessness. Wallace is working in a gravity-free zone–seeing, holding, and letting go, deciphering the negatives and following scented paths where something is, then isn’t. In this zone of here-it-is-there-it-went, fireworks hang in the air for the reader to experience.

Wallace has created zoetropes with words. By the time one literally appears in the third section of the book (“Zoetrope, small horses and animals”), the reader has already envisioned it, sensed its behind-the-scene presence. Often made from paper, zoetropes are similar to little books of pictures animating as you flip the pages. Here’s part one of the poem “National Monument”:

Wish yourself inside
the ornamental deer,
veneer of and spots
floating in the reservoir,
water breaking the edges.
In the time lapse of drift forever
a lasso across your shoulder
and in your pocket
a fly’s wing
on which to sketch
your S.O.S.,
a ribbed dog.

The images are meant to be inhaled deeply, like a mind-bending drug. Reading this volume, sometimes I felt like I was in a theater, watching a beautifully conceived and executed animation.

The poems have a narrative element in a hybrid-cinematic sense, an original blend of imagism, narrative and language poetry. Wallace’s mothers could be H.D. and Gertrude Stein; her poet-sister Harryette Mullen.

A valentine expresses love anywhere on its quirky arc, using pictures and words. It’s also the targeted lover: “be mine.” Are valentines in the hands of a poet love poems? This is the enigma of Wallace’s valentine poems. Visually, they are the pop-up kind, finely detailed and with moving parts, pushing paper past its potential. Perhaps that’s the project behind the poems, and it’s actually quite stunning. From “Star-Spangled Valentine Shagged in Drab”:

I fell hard for the Wide Open,
your scrap yards and tree-lined rivers,
parking lots etched into prairies.
All this inside myself, a broken
bottle gleaming. Tell me a story,
begin with a flag unfurled
and a sun-warmed body of cows,
black/white and black.

Wallace conjures up a defunct television game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” where participants traded what they had for the possibility of something more valuable, hidden behind a door. They were often disappointed. Wallace’s game of love is quite solemn. What valentines wait behind doors numbered one, two and three? From “Valentine Behind Door Number Two”:

Here lies the starlit heart
housed in scarlet shingles.
Blood-bright, the socket.
White piano of ribs.

There is beautiful music and opulent language in these poems. From the shape poem “Snow Globe with Frank O’Hara and Arboretum”: “Geraniums like lit lanterns / that row toward Christmas, everything lit and back lit, / so real, better than blinkers outside splintering the / cake glass.”

Paradoxically, the speaker or persona seems restrained. She is an observer:

Sometimes I think I understand
love like an image I don’t cast
but when I run toward it my shadow
contorts: crippled king, queen of knees.

(“Easter in Snow Angels”)

And from “Accidental for J”:

I count words between louvers, my hush-hush
Eye exam, bedclothes my template.

The persona in Blinking Ephemeral Valentine may be a bit distant, but Joni Wallace clearly is in love with language and language is in love with her—a wild, passionate love affair for this talented and skillful poet.

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Ellen Miller-Mackhas an MFA in Poetry from Drew University. Her poems and reviews have appeared in 5A.M., Affilia, Bookslut and the Valparaiso Poetry Review. She co-authored The Real Cost of Prisons Comix ( PM Press) and is a nurse practitioner at a community health center in Springfield , Massachusetts. She can be contacted at: ellenmiller-mack@comcast.net.