paper • 68 pages • 15.95
Winner of the 2009 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry
selected by Mary Jo Bang
Winner of the Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry, Blinking Ephemeral Valentine, by Joni Wallace, is a collection that seeks to resuscitate the concept of love amid modern-day landscapes and events that undercut the possibilities of genuine emotion. “Remember our best night?” Wallace asks, “Not the drowning, not the self-same gasping as a makeshift blast broadcast through gaping windows…” Through collage and syntactic experiment, as well as fragmentation, Wallace recreates the break-neck speed of modern life, while clinging onto moments of transcendent emotion, however “blinking” and obscured. “Let’s meet back here in 5 minutes, you say, you always say. / I’ll bring the lite-brite. / I’ll bring the hole in my heart…” Tough and edgy, these poems relinquish the worn and hollow paths of traditional romantic poetry for an approach that tells it slant, articulating the hidden: “Here is where I think of you. / Here is a picture, negative, x-ray, reverse.”
A poet flexible with the main tool of her trade—language—Wallace’s diction is energized and fresh: “waxshine of stiletto heels, / fur voltage, radiant / ringlets ringed in smoke.” Void of stanza breaks and favoring enjambment, Wallace’s imaginative leaps yank us through each poem with little time to breathe, or blink. She moves from “hairpins” to “saint-shaped scars graven / into arms outstretched” to “glass-eyes” and “a trayful, / the holy-shit-fires,” within five lines. Such fast-paced, whiplash movement accentuates the ephemeral in these blinking valentines while also allowing us to see the negative space we might have otherwise missed. “Sometimes I think I understand / love like an image I don’t cast,” Wallace writes, “but when I run toward it my shadow contorts: crippled king, queen of knees.”
Wade right out in the Year of Excellent Clouds.
Another evening, another park, another horse
on which to ride. See the sky reflected
on the tear films of an owlet? Paint a thing,
trompe-l’œil, it comes. Trace the sun,
do not look, see it see it without your eyes.
“In these poems, the valentine (i.e., love) is a many-faceted metaphoric machine that is endlessly active—forever drag racing with the dark—after which it sputters, clangs, trails off, goes out, and returns to post itself like a ‘shadow pterodactyl.’ Of course, the fact that it’s blinking (on-again-off-again) predicts its own inevitable extinction. Until that time, however, the heat is fierce and fanatic: ‘If it snows I’m dressed like Christmas, I’m lit, / I’m drinking Red Rockets and oh how they glare.” There’s flicker and flame, and things flung: “my goodbyes, flywheels and marigolds all, of those midair/still hanging souvenirs and petals I’ll press into pies.’ These poems are brilliant: the language is excited, the syntax ever-shifting, the images inventive. Every line feels irrefutable, and charged— electric, like love is, and glittery, like valentines are.” — Mary Jo Bang, judge