reviewed by Karla Huston
Meet Violet, the eccentric child birthed by Jeanie Tomasko and brought into the world by a new, Wisconsin publisher, Jeannie (F.J.) Bergmann’s Taraxia Press. Violet Hours is crafted as a sweet gift, a small, hand-stitched book with a French wrap cover and violet flyleaf. The cover art is of a sedate teacup and sugar bowl with a partial skull, waiting like a treat, next to it, a warning, perhaps, of what is to come.
Violet is a precocious child: “They say I was born in a cold spring, the morning/after my mother put up twelve pints of violet jam.” She’s a girl who is curious, filled with the desire for magic, a child’s need to know, to wonder.
She investigates the things most of us (and most little girls) try to avoid: chicken hearts, the interior of a Bleeding Heart flower, cicadas and many things extraordinary. In one poem, she hosts a strange birthday party where guests cut insect shapes out of cellophane. In another, Violet decorates paper dolls with beetle wings, makes a bra from old bullet casings, a briefcase made from one of her scabs. In yet another, she strings dried, Daddy Longlegs’ bodies into beads.
Readers meet her in a series of traditional, free-verse poems, and, often, prose poems. Tomasko includes a couple of forms for good measure. These poems may give readers the creepy crawlies, but that’s the poet’s intent. Perhaps, what makes us uncomfortable is the thing to which we must attend.
In spite of the character’s “purplish” name, Tomasko focuses much of her imagery on the color red, from blood-rusty saws to blood collected at a birthday party to a raspberry-themed party where spiders crawl over the berries.
The book concentrates, too, on the trope of hearts, whether they are the Valentine hearts her father taught her to cut and deliver to neighbors like May baskets on Valentine’s Day or the hearts she saves when her father makes chicken for supper. Violet’s curious heart beats through these poems, as well.
When Violet creates her Valentine hearts, she cuts a small tail on the top, calls it the “superior vena cava.” She wonders why her father had never “told her the real shape of the heart.” Does a heart, whether paper or live and pulsing, change shape with the act of growing up from child to adult?
“When Violet was small her grandmother showed her
how to take apart bleeding heart flowers
how the outer petals looked like swans, the tiny
stamens: earrings; the pistil, a bottle of champagne
and the delicate inner petals, a pair of skates.
Violet prepared a demonstration of the Bleeding
Heart Legend for her class project. She had enough
hearts for each classmate and the teacher.
kids thought it was cool that their hearts had real blood
Violet had injected prior to class.”
However Violet might be defined—a strange child living in a world of imagination or a psychotic, monster-spawn-of-the-devil who will grow up to become a serial killer or a bug-obsessed girl who will grow up to be an entomologist—she will steal your heart.
Karla Huston, Poet Laureate of Wisconsin (2017-2018), is the author of a full collection of poems A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag Publications: 2013) and eight chapbooks, most recently, Grief Bone (Five Oaks Press: 2017). Winner of a Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses award in 2011, Huston’s poems, reviews and interviews have been published widely. This review originally appeared in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Vol. 62, No. 3. Summer 2016.