Bianca Stone, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows

Publisher: Tin House Books

2014, 78 pages, paperback, $15

IN BIANCA STONE’S debut collection, readers will delight in the meditations of an earnest voice exploring the range of that which “feels/detrimental and complicated and forever stimulating.” The power of Stone’s musings arises from the sudden shifts between lighthearted observations and honest, elemental yearnings. For example, in “Reading a Science Article on the Airplane to JFK,” Stone’s words are playful yet probing:

            And you hear the crickets. Lined up.
            Playing their creepy violins.
And you want to be good.
And you want to be liked.
And you want to recover.

Stone takes on the complexities of relationships, grief, and twenty-first century existence with a sweeping freshness that pairs societal critique with self-effacing confession. In “The Future is Here,” she acknowledges her own complicity in this inevitable catastrophe with humor and irony:

           What man does is build whole universes out of miniscule
disasters and educational degrees.
I have mine in an enormous envelope two feet behind me.
My name looks good in gangster font.

In this allusion to “gangster font,” many readers will identify with a shared sense of confusion and absurdity: what is the point of this very large piece of paper and why is it written in “gangster font”? What is “gangster font” anyway? Where was this cultural mash-up born and what does it reveal about our world? Stone successfully jolts her readers from universal generalization to personal revelation and sarcastic commentary.

There is a distinct “New-York-ness” about Someone Else’s Wedding Vows: the speaker moves among cramped apartments, dark bars, and subways, “lending and trading our bodies in the darkest rooms of Brooklyn.” In the title poem, the speaker appears as a member of a catering staff at a Long Island wedding, “watching lost guests take paper plates to inoffensive tables.” However, the poem ultimately travels to a place of self-examination and confession: “I became a waitress who looked sad, dropping occasionally / into the bed of a maniac, who looked sadder.” Here, the voice evokes the familiar melancholy, aimlessness, and dejection of twenty‑ or thirty-something women living in New York with their “gangster font” diplomas and sincere thirst for something more. In response to this emotional and psychological state, Stone ultimately champions the power of imagination (and by extension, poetry) as a sustaining force of catharsis necessary for survival: “Nothing bad can touch this life / I haven’t already imagined,” she concludes at the end of “The Future is Here.”

Stone has a powerful command of metaphor, which she incorporates in unexpected, jarring ways that delight and surprise. In “Sensitivity to Sound,” the most sensual—and sensuous—poem in the collection, Stone stretches the physical reality of sound into metaphor, drawing the reader from a familiar action to a pleasantly startling connection: from “When I shaved my legs it was the sound of dogs barking” to “the river was the sound of a circumstance of blossoms / and the bees that covered them were barefoot women on wet concrete.” And in the collection’s final poem, “Practicing Vigilance,” the speaker explores her relationship with her father through visceral metaphor:

            My father appeared
            and began taking my hair
            one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.

This final poem showcases the zenith of Stone’s raw, confessional honesty as the poet navigates her tense relationship with her father, “who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze / through [her] life’s antechambers”; her personal history, “comprised of the inappropriate”; and the uncertainty of the future: “Hell if I know, the 8-ball says / drunk in its dark blue alcohol.” She reveals the speaker’s internal turmoil through her strides toward communion with the natural world: “I used to put a miniature rosebush / in the ground each year / to counteract my squalor.”

The multipage poem “Practicing Vigilance”—and Someone Else’s Wedding Vows—ends with an emotionally wrought couplet haunting in its simplicity and candor, leaving the reader with an affirmation of the value of human connection: “we will perceive our own pain in others. / And we will know if we are capable of loving them.”

In Someone Else’s Wedding Vows Bianca Stone offers us an invitation to venture simultaneously inward on a journey of self-excavation, and outward where our journeys can intersect through empathy, imagination, and inquiry. 

—Abigail Ashford-Grooms