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Pickle Me This

April 20, 2008

The Emily Valentine Poems by Zoe Whittall

I realized, from the last book of poetry I read, that I seek out paths allowing access into the poems I’m reading. I suppose this is the way one reads anything, but the paths are usually more straight-forward in fiction. With most cases (and in the case especially of the books I like to read), we’re led through the work with the author holding our hand– even as basically as the points of beginning, middle and end. In poetry, without that guidance, I find myself lost, in particular when form is unfamiliar.

In Zoe Whittall’s The Emily Valentine Poems, pop culture references led my way. I am not sure I would have bought this book at all if not for the title. Other references– musical, literary, and more television– gave me confidence that though I did not know the terrain, I could certainly find my way around all right.

But Whittall’s style represents a quandary for a reader such as I. Her poems are not poems as I was learned them, pentametre iambic or otherwise, and though I sense she is being free with form, stretching its bounds, it all makes me a bit uneasy. By all accounts it should set me free, but see, she is liable to do anything. Who knows what lies on the very next page?

As I go though, I realize it’s worth relaxing for. That the very next page possibly contains a fan letter to Judy Blume, Rayanne Graff, Axl Rose, Corey Haim? So how could I not get along here? A list poem of “Satisfying Soft Victories” (“2) Remembering and using long division”) Much of it like jottings from a notebook, and none of it boring.

I am beginning to see that with a poem you have to read it over and over. By my second and third time through this, I was comfortable enough blazing my own path. The poems more concrete with every read and, however contradictory, ever-changing.

2 thoughts on “The Emily Valentine Poems by Zoe Whittall”

  1. Panic says:

    Zoe absolutely rules. 🙂
    Have you read Bottle Rocket Hearts?

  2. Kerry says:

    I read it last month and enjoyed it. I particularly loved the end (because it was good, I mean, not because I was glad the book was over…)

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