by Mary Jo Bang
I first encountered Joni Wallace's poems in 2009 when I was the judge for the Four Way Books' Larry Levis Prize. Her manuscript, Blinking Ephemeral Valentine, was one of the finalist submissions I'd been sent by the press. Reading it, I knew it was poetry the way Dickinson told Thomas Wentworth Higginson (L342a) she knew a book was poetry, "If [reading it] I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry… Is there any other way?" For the judge's citation, I wrote:
"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.' …[T]he 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."