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Joni Wallace recommends…
1. Alphabet Poem, Nonsense Alphabet, Edward Lear, The complete Verse and Other Nonsense, Penguin Books, 2002.
Lear’s abecedarians slyly introduce symbol, i.e. letter as sound, stage, scaffold, prop and actor in a kind of Jack and Jill tumbler. Kindergarten.
2, 3. Snow Piece and Drinking Piece for Orchestra, Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, Simon and Schuster (2000).
Ono shows – never tells – how to hear with the acutest ear, how to see with that same eye, how to be listener, artist, poet. Each piece is an irresistible invitation to imagine. Get the book. You’ll fall in love. Kindergarten and up.
4. Maggie and Milly and Molly and Mae, e.e. cummings, The Complete Poems: 1904-1962, Liverwright Publishing Corporation, 1991.
“All that we call the world is the shadow of that substance which you are,” wrote Emerson. Each of four girls finds self-reflection in the sea. Grades 3 – 5, particularly girls.
Interview by Joni Wallace
Mary Jo Bang's books of poetry include Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which received the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and was listed as a New York Times 2008 Notable Book, and The Bride of E (Graywolf Press, 2009). She was the poetry co-editor at Boston Review from 1995-2005, and has been the recipient of the Alice Fay Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. She is a professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. Her translation of Dante's Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, will be published by Graywolf Press in July, 2012.
Joni Wallace's poetry collection, Blinking Ephemeral Valentine (Four Way Books, 2011), was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize.
JW: The character driven poems of Louise in Love, the ekphrastic poems of The Eye Like a Strange Balloon and the abcedarian poems of Bride of E strike me similarly as enactments of a disembodied consciousness: the workings of the mind set out for view on a series of revolving stages. Multiple interruptions take place - ticks and tocks, ringing phones (an effect I love), nursery rhyme chatter, trains, literary texts. Mickey, Minnie, Alice, Freud, Cher and others make appearances, influence poetic outcomes. For me your poems function both as glittering spectacles and intimate conversations, all ultimately engaging the experience of what it means to be human now. How do you see yourself, the poet, in relation to your work? Conductor, actor, set designer, alchemist, beautiful fly on the velvet backdrop?
by Joni Wallace
Joni Wallace's poetry collection Blinking Ephemeral Valentine was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize and is forthcoming from Four Way Books (March, 2011). Her poems have been published in Boston Review, Barrow Street, Blue Mesa Review, Conduit, Cutbank, Forklift, Ohio, Laurel Review and have been featured in Connotations Press, An Online Artifact. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana. Joni is also a musician and co-founder, with poet Ann Dernier, of Poets' Studio.
"These are the poetry birds, Mom," says my beaming five-year-old, presenting me with her drawing. "And...they are famous." For the last two years these birds have graced the wall in the room where I write. If they had a song, it would be "attention, pay attention." And they remind of something Dean Young wrote of poets: we are trying to make birds, not birdhouses. This same "birdness" is what Richard Shelton calls "claritas:" those moments of clairvoyant transcendence that come through poems when poems work.