The Poetry Press, 2009
Paperback, 82 pp., $15
L.E.K Wilson’s A Little North of Hollywood (Or, Dimly and in Flashes) begins with an epigraph from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Love of the Last Tycoon. The final four lines conclude:
You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don’t understand. It can be understood too, but only dimly and in flashes.
The ghostly still that serves as the cover of Wilson’s poetic debut immediately conjures images of old Hollywood glamour. The collection is a montage of poems of all lengths written from the perspectives of various people the speaker has encountered during her life in Los Angeles County.
According to the author, the book is about “the dreamers, those who move to Hollywood to find and follow their calling.” She also takes special pains in the preface to explain that the collection should not be taken as autobiographical.
The book is split into two sections: “The Sweet Murder of These” and “Homesick.” The first section is dedicated to just that—the murdered. In “411” the speaker talks of discovering that her male counterpart is dying: “I got a call from Cedars-Sinai / today. He said the doctor had come / into his room to apologize.” Here, the speaker deals with death in in its most obvious form: physical. The following poem, “Catalina Chopper,” does much the same thing, as it reports a plane crash resulting in the physical death of three people on the aircraft.
Other poems in this section, like “On Muses and Like Seductions,” lend themselves to a movie-like format that seem to roll like films as they are read. The poem begins with the command “fade in” and ends in its antithesis, “fade out,” staying true to the book’s homage to the Hollywood dead. In between there are three acts. The actual “death” in the poem is the death of the poem (fade out).
Of course, all these poems about death are tempered here and there by little shimmers of life. “Friday Night on Olvera Street,” one of the most musical of the entire collection, opens with the line: “they string paper lanterns humming plum.” The sixteen line poem is characterized by cinnamon, churros, sangria, and ruffled dancers, and serves as a testimony to the undeniable beauty of the human existence.
The last section, “Homesick,” wrestles with the death of “home” and the stark realization that, in reality, there is no going back.
The first poem in the section, “The Attic,” deals with a fall. The poem begins: “I remember falling from the ladder.” The poem continues: I move backward through space and I often wish / Time I see the Queen Anne chair with cream brocade”(6-7). The fall results in “cracked ribs” for the speaker, not physical death. What does die in this process, however, is the speaker’s hope of returning home. This poem is written after the speaker has fallen, a memorial of who she was before the cracked ribs. She will never be exactly the same person again.
The next poem in the section, and consequently my favorite of the entire book, is “Tadpole.” Here the speaker “crouches on a sandbar” and watches on in awe, enchanted by the hundreds of tadpoles she sees. She zooms in on one tadpole in particular in the final four lines of the poem, of which she says:
These are her first steps on shore, I press my pinky into the
Sand right in her path, she steps onto my finger, I lift her
Up and stare into those fresh black eyes and hope within
The chaos, always this force of change, this intention (14-17)
Within the literary geography of Wilson’s first collection, nearly every speaker of every poem is being “subjected” to death in one way or another. People in this text, by and large, have no control. In this poem, however, the speaker, for once is larger than something. In fact, the chaos and circumstance of the poem is not really hers. She stands outside it, governing it, and lifts the baby tadpole up, just as God would lift up a fallen child—fallen the same way the speaker had fallen in “The Attic.” In this poem the speaker sums up the idea of the entire collection—that as dark and eminent as physical death may be, there is hope in the chaos, if we dare look for it.
Alexandria Ashford is an award-winning poet, essayist, and hip hop critic. Her debut poetry collection, Danke Schoen: Poems received the 2010 Prize Americana for Poetry and was released that September to favorable reviews. Ashford's work has been published in such literary journals as Chopper, Review Americana, Rose and Thorn, South Jersey Underground, and Silk Road. She has written and edited for Christianity and Youthwork Magazines in London, U.K. and was the editor of Pepperdine University's Expressionists Magazine from 2009-2010.