by Jessie Janeshek
Jessie Janeshek’s Invisible Mink is a collection worth devoting your time to and, in fact, one which can only be properly enjoyed as a project. Nearly all of the poems in Invisible Mink are based on movies from the 1930s and 1940s, and I fully intend to reread Janeshek’s collection while watching every movie she references so that I can understand all of the connections and immerse myself in the world she creates.
For instance, the first poem in the book, “The Appledoppeling Gang,” is based on the 1947 Bette Davis film A Stolen Life, in which one twin impersonates the other who died in an accident in order to be close to the man she feels her sister stole from her years earlier. In this opening poem, Janeshek explores the glamour of classic Hollywood films and our willingness to accept the preposterous plots of yesteryear, ending the poem with, “Not enough moon? Add some gloss.”
Throughout the collection, Janeshek’s sense of humor and self-consciousness at taking on the monumental project of creating a mash-up of poetry and classic film are at play. The second poem, “Jezebel, Jealous of Television,” which is based on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? quips:
…Grey’s the only word
I spell pretentiously. No colour
no flavour, I’m not big on labour.
This poem will never
be a sestin a. Leisure’s
While “leisure” in the form of cinema might be Janeshek’s source of inspiration, there are deeper forces at work. In nearly all of these movies, the heroine is forced to rely on her feminine wiles because she is utterly powerless in all other aspects of her life. This same theme plays throughout the collection. For example, in “Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry:”
Chanel heels sunk in mud.
I shrunk while I smooched him goodbye.
He disappeared with his chauffer.
I went to the river, whipping my wig off.
Time and again, the women in this volume struggle with the weight of being objects of desire and the even more dangerous possibility of not being desired. These classic feminist themes continue beyond the poems inspired by the over twenty classic movies.
In addition to film-based poems are poems inspired by art, such as Lord Frederic Leighton’s painting Flaming June, and Charlotte Brontë’s novel Villette, in which Lucy Snowe is a character. “Lucy in Wien, Looking at Brueghel’s Hunters in Snow” is a poem inspired by the intersection between painting and fiction and is especially interesting because it is not Janeshek joining male poets—notably Ashberry, Auden, and Williams—who have written about Brueghel’s paintings but Janeshek allowing Brontë’s character Lucy to stand in for the poet as the observer of a painting depicting the traditionally masculine subject of hunting.
The aspect of Invisible Mink that most thrills me as a reader (and reviewer) is the seamlessness with which Janeshek as a speaker is woven in with her movie heroines. “Jezebel Keeps the Appointment,” which draws on both Midnight Express and Diabolique, is a terrific example:
Last night, the cat pissed the bed.
I washed so many times
couldn’t get clean
dictated a letter to Lady Macbeth.
You’re not the weak one
your braids sopapillas.
You’re not the cute little ruin.
The train does not stop here.
What’s worse? It’s packed
with people from high school.
This is what Janeshek does at her best—interweaves everyday life, the glamour and tragedy of old Hollywood, and our innermost fears and neuroses, which she bravely points out in herself so that we can identify.
The only weakness of this collection isn’t one of the collection itself but one of practicality. I doubt many readers will take the time to watch over twenty classic films, read Villette, and perform a Google image search to see the paintings referred to in the book. I certainly hope to. And if I could finagle my way into it, I would teach a classic film course in conjunction with Invisible Mink. For now, I’ll update my Netflix and Hulu queues and look forward to watching all of the movies assigned in the Notes section by Professor Janeshek.
Shaindel Beers is Contrary’s Poetry Editor.