Reviewed by Candice Daquin
by Alyssa Wolf
Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, Otis College of Art and Design, 9045 Lincoln Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045; ISBN #
0975592440, 82pp., 2006
'Vaudeville' is a noun possessed by America, infused with the early root of Americana life, the minstrelsy, grotesque, freak shows and work-tired twinge for entertainment. Allyssa Wolf's title permits the admission of the burlesque, her conceived Vaudeville contains sinister yet not mute dolls, unsettling yet ever-captivating, she beguiles her reader with query and unfettered purpose to reveal like an exquisite lacquered Russian box, her tower of weird, this writhing, unique stage of shifting shapes and oppositions. A palpable sense of one's 'own hands hunting,' the urgency of death drooling behind Wolf's incisive poetry clamoring; "Do you still have thirst? / Drink from my harm." At once a metallic ode to Tim Burton's nightmare, the vine of wild things riding on the influential cusp of all gothic and horror, combining a veritable menagerie of baited threat, sinister, atypical truth that couples with aching erotic truisms: "I am not a medium, but / still I could allow myself to be stripped nude, searched by your husband / who is a surgeon / you control one of my hands." The Comic is an original play of poetry, while 10 dolls are individual odes to the dolls of Wolf's world. The creatures that appear onstage in awkward stitched felt suits are Orpheumous wraiths, tinkering over human misery and Americana like pallets of colors smudging an empty canvas. Wolf's prose is as gorgeously uninhibited as her poetry, mingling genres until the reek of originality is spent, to ever prevent one 'being like furniture' in air 'teeming' with fire-breathing flies. Wolf's polymorphous Commedia dell'arte imagination cavorts in 'Technicolor' 'howl-worn' homage, refusing anchorage, on a 'broken neck,' longing to eat it all, the 'fried onion and porno store,' dancing with 'wet wing' through the 'mouths of caves' displaying: "the world / to tempt the thief / inside a glass ball."
Wolf's sumptuous backdrop of girl's holding bears in butcher shops explodes myths and expounds on paranoia: "Hands sewn to their mouths. / Mouths sewn to a hunger. / There had to be many. / Who collected their hands." We are inside the rolling marble, visiting horror and beauty simultaneously, breeding two-headed reactions to the brome carnival of 'wild angels' who paint out their eyes and walk to the side, sweeping back the curtain of spectacle and blowing a delicious poison at assumption. Wolf, a step ahead, is aware of the 'levitating of the swarm' as she directs the eye; a magician with rabbits in glass boxes, practicing invisible tricks, promising us "the wrist of a glove / The becoming visible / openly surrounded." No accidental tourist; her lineage is the neo-Baroque varnished splendor of informed creation, pouring wax on blood to; 'hide the cut all the better,' burning sensually with a plague infused mis-en-scene of itching wax matches and waking dolls, Wolf's capture of language, is gorily aflame, beneath wasteland of innuendo. Her girls are hinged on destruction: "They close the secret doors behind them… / By this time, the sawhorses are n the stage." Flirting with the squash of corseted rebellion, relentlessly humorous, all those moments you hope never happen but long to observe, Wolf exposes us for the theatrical voyeurs we are, a deeply feminine interpretation of violence and anger simmering under spectacle, the strangeness a myriad of: "Weaving murmurs / making eyes."
As voyeur we need not act, but we witness, thus, the question of culpability and focus shifts between the theatrical languages of acts and blend the performer with audience, audience and performer as puppets, resonating Wolf's wide knowledge of underground gris-gris and overgrown bloated suburbanite. Wolf called Vaudeville; "my little black virgin." Surely a virgin filled with headless artistry and murmured incantations like persisting rumors, her sticky cat’s cradle is born and has just begun to grow, propagated under a blistering stage lamp of assonantal rhyme and logical absurdum: "an occasion for gratitude the Christ replaced by Faye Wray, the sickly / utilitarian / colors and fetished hair stresses derived from milk protein, the milky / color / of a accurate walking style." One gets the sense that Wolf's palette will burst from a pomegranate in many membranes, each as addictive and impossible to rub clean as this first unstoppable, "muffled hammer" installment. Wolf's poetry is the 'spike of light' as unhinged from the ordinary as it gets: 'The "collar" hiding the neck strap' sitting down for a dolls tea party, with sarsaparilla, bone tonic and guests Guillermo Del Toro and Jean Genet: "All my friends! / Their quills 0f reptile fin / their nice clean skins, this is what / Makes it fit for painting / Nice, lovely, nice / 'to annihilate someself.'"




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