The Light Does Not Warm: A Review of Joni Wallace's Blinking Ephemeral Valentine

Elizabeth FalconElizabeth Falcón is an MFA poetry student at the University of Arizona. She is also the Education Intern at the UA Poetry Center and maintains the Poetry Center's education blog, WordPlay. She is a TPAC rostered teaching artist and has taught several residencies at Corbett Elementary School in Tucson. In addition to pursuing her own writing, she aspires to help children fall in love with poetry as a teaching artist in the schools.

Mary Jo Bang will be reading with Joni Wallace at the Poetry Center on October 6, 2011 at 7 p.m. at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.  Joni Wallace will be leading a shop talk on Mary Jo Bang's work on October 4 at 6 p.m. prior to the Oct 6. reading. Both events are free and open to the public. Join us! To read an interview between Mary Jo Bang and Joni Wallace, click here.

Joni Wallace's debut poetry collection, Blinking Ephemeral Valentine (Four Way Books, 2011), was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize. Joni grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and earned her MFA from the University of Montana. She lives in Tucson and is currently working on a series of poems tracking the migration paths of mule deer.

Joni Wallace's Blinking Ephemeral Valentine is one of those rare books that haunts the reader afterwards with its language, mood, and images. The poems are assemblages of lists, sounds, objects and they feel conscious of their craftedness, their objectification, artifacts for a reader to examine and dissect. Flashes of landscapes with odd collections of things from modern life--sequins, red cups, Lite Brite, boulevards, pigeons. Love blinking on and off in the cold slush of winter. Just enough narrative to grasp the moment. Anaphoric echoes. Eerie pulses of quiet and disquiet.

The light here is decoration; it does not warm. Blue planets, red harbors, sounds against a blizzard of nothing. Brilliant sparkling things, things we are drawn to but do not touch. And always a light, blinking on and off. Post-apocalyptic, desolate, cold.

Yet there is singing.

The beauty and precision of the words, rooted in image and lyric power, are woven with moments of narrative, moments of rhetoric, balanced, back-seated. Wallace's use of italics creates another voice layered behind that of the speaker, pulsing, cryptic and a little foreboding--"sparkle sparkle swirl"--"draw xs where their eyes should be"--even as its echo drowns in the howling wind. The poet's love for language is overwhelming, and creates in the reader a ubiquitous feeling of heartache at the beauty and harshness of the world.

Wallace sanctifies the fleeting moments of life, of this big toy world. She gathers up what makes a moment and suspends it, explodes it, puts it in a snow globe, writes it a valentine. The lights blink on and off with every page turn, charged, combustible, inflamed and frozen again, much like the little match girl, who lights her matches to keep warm. Invariably the ephemeral light goes out, the light comes back, continually brighter. Then a last surge of brilliance, and it is gone.

Created on: 
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents