The Emily Valentine Poems
At her best, Whittal is able to compactly reveal the sadness, anxiety, madness, and desire of her poetic subjects, using potent imagery and dark humour. An old lover is recalled as “dangerous like a slow-grind on a last-call dance floor.” In “827 Ossington,” the narrator muses,
I always end relationships on Ossington street. It’s long and grey, book-ended by the mental hospital and a gas station that got bombed last week.
Yet many of the poems might strike the reader as a series of stark observations that lead nowhere. Stanza 5 of “Serenade from the Porch of the Parkdale Gem” begins:
5. I almost died in a freight elevator on my way to get laid
by someone twice my age I couldn’t even really talk to.
The next stanza transports us to a bank machine, where the narrator talks of receipts stuck to her boots. This formal disjointedness might mirror the subject’s mental state, but it does not help us to understand it.
Sprinkled with references to Zoloft, suicide, ageing, nothingness, marginalization, and panic attacks, these poems appear to be mainly about a deep, and possibly spiritually-based, anxiety: “We turned 30 and remembered about God.” But the God motif is, like many of the poetic narratives, left undeveloped.
This avoidance of meaning might be deliberate, as the opening poem hints: “You have love and the word love, but the two will never meet.” A poet can try, though, can’t she? mRb