REBECCA LOUDON Reviews
Hollywood Starlet by Ivy Alvarez
(Dancing Girl Press, Chicago, 2015)
I read this book right after my mother died maybe on the same day. Then for six weeks I wasn’t able to read a single word not a book not a complete blog post not a sentence not even the side of the cereal box but Ivy’s book was a balm a poultice and I kept going back to it. I kept the book under my pillow and throughout each day I read a poem or a line sometimes only three words but I read and reread and read backwards and split its pages down the middle so now it lies flat as a skate. Hollywood Starlets became a constant bibliomancy for my life’s timbre my grief-not-grief my jumbled brain. It was a wee life raft of words strung together like my aunt Beulah’s pearls that I wear to this day. One Sunday during my non-reading nightmare I was watching Frank Capra’s A Hole in the Head on the fake cable channel and I found myself dropped with emotional force inside Hollywood Starlets again this time lost zippered in deep so I opened the book randomly and light shot out at me with this poem:
What Ava Gardner Delivered
Under the bridge, a dim lagoon.
Slow notes from a saxophone
glow in the trees. The pool
becomes a black sky, fallen leaves collapsed stars.
Angel, he calls me. Frankie’s name for me. I remember how he
stroked my skin, his wedding ring scratching my chin
as I stood to deliver us from the second gift
of my belly. Afterwards, he gave me jewellery.
Here I am a raven calling out to borders, guards,
the staring crowds: goodbye.
A soldier looks into my eyes, murmurs
something low and kind to me.
I fold into my dark coat,
say thank you.
Ivy Alvarez gives voice to those starlets of Hollywood when it was Golden when women were shaped and battered and squeezed and shaved and dyed and raped and pressed then pressed harder then harder until they were nothing but celluloid. Actually Alvarez does more than give voice in this deceptively slim chapbook. She gives the starlets portals through which to enter our modern. She revives their haints them by telling their truths and each jump each famous beauty brings us deeper down a rabbit hole and as I read this book my house gave way with the strength and true of these women.
We have an idea of glamor what it must have been like. Ivy Alvarez takes that idea and peels its sides down and splits it open and pries out the bloody fruit. The starlets are no longer slim legs sausaged in war rationed nylon stockings peeking from the door of a sleek new car. They are not pearl white teeth ten feet tall on the big screen. They are not gossip and dinners at the Brown Derby and the Hollywood sign pure white and shimmering against the ultra-blue skies of Los Angeles. These starlets are not ours to devour as we shovel popcorn into our already salted mouths. In this book the starlets are not hair nor are they carefully drawn lips nor are they breathy voices. They are as real as our own aunts they are as real as our sisters our broken best friends our diminished and crumpled battle worn mothers. In this book the starlets bleed. They speak not as sirens but as Cassandras. They tell they lose they eat they steal they deliver and pray and want and give and give and give. They tell the truth. In this book they finally become themselves.
What Jayne Mansfield Held
I have too many wants; man-like,
acquisitional. the long, blonde part of me
is greedy for this sunset, the cold valley.
The shadowy slopes might bring snow.
Another lover hands me cypress seeds – cracked, brown bells –
promising luck. How would I know which soil it belongs?
Circling around the time-struck tree, mud at my feet, I spin, arms-out,
rays catching on me, my hair of floss, a malleable quantity.
Oh, baby. There will be a harvest:
tender leaves to sting the tongue
to wonder, a mouthful of silence.
The road tomorrow
ribbon-tied to a broken branch
twisting in the wind.
It is true that I adore Ivy Alvarez’s work her voice and the person she is and I love every book she has written. But this book seems different. In this book Ivy shed her own skin and pulled on the skin of these women who made our idea of Hollywood. In this book Ivy cuts to the bone and spares no emotion. In this book Ivy remembers the truth of a time so wrapped in mythos that very few can say now what happened. She has jumped into the portal and the small becomes huge becomes larger than any one of us.
Rebecca Loudon lives and writes in Seattle. Her most recent book is Cadaver Dogs from No Tell Books.