by Bianca Stone
88 pages—Tin House/Octopus Books, 2014
Reviewed by meg willing
Bear with me, because I want to start at the beginning. The creation-of-the-cosmos beginning—which starts with the movement of space. In some esoteric traditions, this nascent universe had a strong desire for motion and started to flow. Inertia, with its inherent resistance to change, tugged against that flow and tension was born. Through the pressure between these two opposing forces, vibrant new planes of existence emerged. Such is the case with Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Tin House/Octopus Books, 2014). In this stunning debut collection of poetry, paradoxical forces—distance and intimacy, the concrete and the abstract, micro- and macrocosms—mingle amid Stone’s wild intellect, brushing against each other in vivid spark.
As the title suggests, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows is an exploration of the self—often estranged—and its capacity for love. While Stone explores this idea throughout the collection, the poem “What It’s Like”speaks to this directly:
I cannot love like a ninepin. Not
like the lane. Not like the blue shoe.
I can love like a farmhouse, or a grief-
chimney that funnels from the ovens
of my earlier unpopular period.
In Stone’s unique style, she approaches the force of love through simile, drawing parallels between the immaterial force of feeling and the material world. She grants us access to the intangible through the sense of sight. The ninepin, the lane, the blue shoe—we see these stationary objects before us, nouns divorced from their actions. They are static. In stark contrast, the image of the chimney is an image of action—of fire funneling, echoing through the farmhouse of memory. The strange specificity of concrete objects is brilliant as Stone defines and counter-defines. She uses the friction between what can be and what cannot be to propel the poem forward. Momentum builds with a shift in metaphor:
is a pond where thousands
of black tadpoles loiter at the rocks.
This is a wooden raft being tipped
by an assembly of teenagers.
And there are no clouds in the sky.
No airplanes. There isn’t even
a sky. And there isn’t even a sky behind that.
We now see this force in full form—clustered with live tadpoles, helplessly tipped by youth. Stone pans out to show the scene, and the perspective it offers is intentionally hollow. In the absence of sky, we are in a void—cut off from celestial navigation—and left to our own devices.
In scenes of tenderness, the tension between intimacy and distance becomes most palpable. In “Because You Love You Come Apart[i],”the first-, second-, and third-person points of view work together to construct a panoramic fracture of the self. The poem begins in the second-person and catches our attention with a direct address: “Your hair is wonderful today.”Is it? I instinctively ask for a second. In this opening line—devoid of cues to denote dialogue within the poem—Stone breaks the fourth wall with a wink, hinting that this scene, this party, these feelings are a human experience in which we all take part. Stone’s witstrikes hot here. The poem continues in the second-person, as the view of the public scene turns inward: “Your head is split down the middle by a brook; / each hemisphere, divine, witchy, / out of the depths—your trouble, / your grief speaking, your cartoons.”The second-person closeness that lured us in at the start of the poem now casts its hard gaze on the speaker’s identity, creating a split, a fracture. Here, another line is cast:
This is starting a sentence with
I’ve never told anyone this.
And you are gruesome, hungry
at the edge of the earth
where the dead wait it out.
From a babble in the ground
in a vortex of quilts and roots:
they are still listening.
They want to be loved.
They want to be remembered correctly.
We bring ourselves to the river
and we feed ourselves coffee and blast of airborne opiates.
This is bone-dust. A fistful of mint.
As Stone’s daring, imagistic leaps ask us to keep pace, the subtleties in craft sink into our subconscious. We are teased with a secret in first-person voice as it steps in to say, “I’ve never told anyone this.”We lean in to listen, but are fended off by the end-stopped line. The third-person dead pull us all nearer to the grave before Stone swoops us up in the warm embrace of “we.”Yet, this too is as short-lived—as bone-dust, as the scent of mint.
In less capable hands, such conflicting, rushing currents could leave us gasping. But instead, we dive in headlong, swim, and come to bask in Stone’s stylistic tendencies. Her diction is consistently precise; her imagery is frank and strikingly original; her emotional register is sincere and sharp. At each turn, we encounter a new way of interacting with the world, imbued with fierce intelligence and intuition. Stone uses this skill to fuse abstract human emotion to the minutia of the everyday. “Monsieur,” a segmented poem that begins the third and final section of the book, allows us to enter a quieter quadrant—the domesticity of apartment life—at a slower, more meditative pace:
we do not hold each other
and think of the assassin constructing
in the human ego
we listen to the man shouting
tearing apart trash cans on the street outside the window
and think we are safe
The universal fear of losing the self is transmuted succinctly into the physical world. Even though the mind consciously tries to turn away from the vulnerabilities of love, the exterior world—every ninepin, every tadpole, every trash can—begins to mirror the inner landscape and take on form. It is this type of alchemy that drives the collection and makes it spin. Through these invisible-made-visible forces that pull on the human psyche, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows allows us to enter Stone’s parallel universe—a plane that resembles ours, but pulsates with its own extraordinary verve.
---------I first encountered “Because You Love You Come Apart”as a poetry comic, published by Factory Hollow Press in 2013. Complimented by Stone’s dynamic illustrations, you’ll find an entirely new reading experience here. Highly recommended.
meg willing is a poet, artist, and book designer. Her poetry and artwork have appeared in (or forthcoming from) Hayden's Ferry Review, Colorado Review, Gigantic Sequins, Mead: The Magazine of Literature and Libations, RINE, and elsewhere. She resides in the foothills of Maine.