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The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Lannan Literary Selections) Paperback – May 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing heavily upon myth and ancient texts, Wilner finds the contemporary world has let the old gods down, and vice versa: "We drop Cassandra's mantle in the dust. / The king will not return. The king is dead." Here, Persephone is "a poem we read one time in school," and Aphrodite is a tired starlet with stretch marks. Many familiar figures pop up here, often in new configurations: Sappho has an exchange with Orpheus; later Orpheus meets up with Sir Walter Ralegh. The theme is consistent, however: "Now that the Muses have traded their togas for faded rags... their thoughts wandering into clouds of theory, inspiration's exhaust." Wilner's critique does not limit itself to the absence of myth; it often turns directly to the world as she sees it, a world that includes the Dionne quintuplets, ClearChannel and Slovenian critical theorist Slavoj Zizek. The language of these poems is plain, toneless, and often approaches prose; some poems eschew punctuation; most eschew the first person; many are written as one very long, clause-filled sentence, giving the impression of an elongated exhalation of breath: "Our larval period underground... allows us to survive, and makes / our faded days seems almost bright." This book seems intended to reveal the relative darkness in which such utterances are necessary.
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In a marvelous collection, "The Rag -Picker’s Guide to Poetry: Poems, Poets, Processes, " which she co-edited with Maurice Manning, Wilner talks about the evolution of “Ode to Innocence,” a poem dedicated to Victor Jara, the Chilean musician and poet who was murdered during the reign of Pinochet. This is one of the most enlightening of essays on artistic process that I’ve ever read, for the poet admits that she did not at first understand how the reference to Ophelia suddenly appeared in her poem, offered from the knowing unconscious to the unknowing poet. But there it was, and once she realized why it is there, it made perfect sense, adding even greater depth to this remarkable poem.
Wilner is so steeped in literature and culture that it is as though she has lived it; when she gives voice to her ideas, they seem utterly believable, as if summoned from personal experience rather than mere erudition or theory--- a revelation of myth as it exists and persists in the contemporary world. In poem after stunning poem, she achieves this nexus---as in "Avrio Cassandra," or "Figure/Ground," a poem about Persephone. The title poem, "The Girl with Bees in Her Hair", inspired by a photograph, is as vivid and disturbing as a dream---one of those poems and you read will again and again, its meaning both elusive and compelling.
Last, and not least—the poems themselves are beautiful, beautifully crafted works of art, musical and flowing. This is subtly done—-Wilner is a master of internal rhyme; the reader may not even be aware of the rhyming, for neither rhyme nor rhythm ever intrude on the poems—-but the effect is powerful, and lingering—-the work of a truly great poet.