Diamond Dog, Emerald Ice
Orange grove still from Emerald Ice
Emerald Ice is a short (16-minute) film by Jesseca Ynez Simmons about (and narrated by) the poet Diane Wakoski. Simmons calls it a “docufantasy” as it is a kind of documentary in poetic form. To quote one of Wakoski’s poems, “You must use / your imagination / for this film” and Simmons certainly did! The film opens with a poem excerpt using the phrase “emerald ice” and then offers marvelous images drawn from the poems and evocative in themselves: an orange and an orange grove, snowflakes morphing into bits of fire, a cliff at the ocean’s edge, motorcycles, tall grasses, a burning piano, and then a beautiful interior filled with glass. The film does not quite tell a story; it does not quite shape itself into conventional narrative; it lets the viewer continue to imagine what might be there.
Diane Wakoski famously sent people back to her poems when they asked for her biography. Simmons uses that in her film: “Diane Wakoski was born in California in 1937. The poems in her published books give all the important information about her life.” Her poems are indeed autobiographical and specific, but also incorporate myth, history, and persona, and we hear her own words as evidence of this in the voiceover: “to recognize I am not just one thing” and “the story of my life is that it goes on.” Wakoski is called a “conversational” poet, and the poems do often sound like someone talking to us, so it is both fitting and surprising that she is talking to us in the film, since her voice also has a removed quality, both human and abstract, as if she is in the foreground and the background at once. We do see her, sitting in the room of glass, but we see other characters, too, in the narrative we must imagine on our own.
For me, there’s a beautiful moment when a mother figure exits the screen and a brother figure re-enters at that exact spot. We’ve heard of the “brother dead by his own hand.” We’ve heard the grieving mother ask her relentless questions, and, finally, the poet’s answer. “Justice.”
It makes me ache to hear the poet say, “I haven’t touched the piano in ten years.” You can almost feel it sitting there, laden with dust and pain, but then you hear the Moonlight Sonata, and somehow the pain drifts away on the melodic line.
Emerald Ice, the film, is lovely (and scary, and sad) in itself, but it also sent me back to the poems, a good thing! I did not have Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987 at hand, so I turned to The Motorcycle Betrayal poems, its yellowed pages held together by a black rubber band, with penciled notes by my mother in it. The story was going on! Just past the middle of the book, where the spine was broken, and the book lay open, I found Wakoski’s poem about poetry itself, “With Words,” which begins:
Poems come from incomplete knowledge.
From the sense of seeing
an unfinished steel bridge
that you’d like to walk across….
If you’d like to walk across the wonderful bridge between film and poetry, between the life and the work of Diane Wakoski, you can watch bits of Emerald Ice right here:
You can find a list of screenings of the full film in the links below, with the next coming up August 18-19, 2017 at the Defy Film Festival in Nashville, TN, and August 25-27 at the Mosaic Film Festival in Rockford, IL. After that, you’ll need to be in Brazil in September or Paris in November!
–Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor