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“Oh Emily, your hair was enough to cause problems.”

September 20th, 2006     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

In my somewhat misguided, albeit typical youth, my girlfriends and I would reserve a special evening a week to worship at the altar of certain sacred California zip code. Beverley Hills 90210 defined my middle school experience, with its boring sunkissed blond and exquisitely beautiful (although suspiciously, ahem, older) high school students and the drama that was their (also suspiciously) perfect high school lives.

For one season and one season only that beach-front perfection was dismantled with the entrance of one bad, bad, very bad girl named Emily Valentine, her over-bleached blond hair cropped short, and her ability to set cars on fire differentiating her from the rest of the pretty plastic BH gang. Emily entered on a motorcycle, made everyone uncomfortable with her inability to be a good and sane girl, unabashedly tore the serenity of the spoiled zip code to shreds, and then disappeared, blotted out of the show as if that kind of reality was too uncomfortable for my middle school companions to tolerate.

This is why Zoe Whittalls new book of poetry is so aptly titled. The Emily Valentine Poems (Snare Books) is the long awaited follow up to her 2001 poetry collection The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life, and this new release does much the same thing to poetry as a whole as Miss Valentine did to me, my friends and the fictional 90210 gang. It is a necessary and beautiful dose of reality in an otherwise plastic and episodic world.

This collection is not in any way objectively distanced from its subject matter, which is not to say its candor is a bad thing. Quite the contrary; it is deeply personal, digging in and getting right to the splintered and bruised bone of human experience, with all its beautiful wounds and flaws. The result is exquisite, not to mention refreshing, in a literary world of boring Beverly Hills blondes.

Whittalls writing is unapologetically confessional (while confessional women’s writing has been apologizing for years) and is therefore uncomfortably intimate, her words so honest and pure that the reader becomes an enraptured and guilty voyeur of sorts. We view the tiniest details of a brutal urban girl world through Whittalls neurotic yet ingenious lens. Not only does the collection push us through some of our more broken emotional moments in love and life, but it also makes us laugh, at times hysterically, at ourselves and the ridiculous moments that define us:

Writers make bad housewives but/ excellent stalkers

This book is perfect in a way that only truly honest writing can be, leaving no detail of our experiences unexamined, every image and feeling so clear and precise that we are made to endure the most visceral and magnificent of human emotions with painful familiarity.

She is setting things on fire and we are all the better for it.

Whittall will be launching The Emily Valentine Poems this weekend at Torontos Word on the Street. And if you’re in Montreal on the 22nd of October check out the Coach House/ Snare Books Launch at The Green Room, hosted by “Montreal literary impresario” Jon Paul Fiorentino. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, this event will be fantastic.

Tags: arts, event listings

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