The Ethereal Effect–A Collection of Villanelles
by Jeannie E. Roberts
31 poems ~ 43 pages
Price: $17.00
Publisher: Kelsay Books
ISBN: 978-1-63980-229-6
To Order: KelsayBooks, or Amazon, or through the author for signed copies,

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Jeannie Roberts dedicates The Ethereal Effect–A Collection of Villanelles, to her son Andrew, with a quote from Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

–Dylan Thomas

I quote these lines to show the versatility and beauty of the villanelle form. It is self-evident that Jeannie Roberts is intimately familiar with Dylan Thomas’s spiritual acuity. I note this because, like Thomas, Roberts employs the villanelle form with uncommon grace, skill, and yes, spirituality.

Roberts' title draws me in. “Ethereal” means to have a celestial quality, delicate and light in a way that conjures otherworldliness. I must tell you, in an age filled with vitriol, blame-placing, questionable truth claims, even the title sends me to Her latest collection does not disappoint. My goal in this review is to support that claim.

The Poet’s Skill

The villanelle form is challenging to write. You need at least two strong lines that can bear the pressure of repetition. Next, the poet must have a good “ear” for rhyme and cadence. Third, she must be disciplined, holding a tight thematic reign throughout the composition. Fourth, she must be faithful to her mission of “ethereality.” I asked myself, does this poet know what she is doing when she claims her work belongs to another spiritual world? This reviewer answers with a resounding, unqualified YES, to all the above.

Exhibit A

          Your Garden Variety Villanelle

          Flowers unfold as if blossoming prose.
          Bergamot burgeons between purple phlox.
          Petals shape poetry where gardens grow.

          Pink extends grace with the softness of rose.
          Lilies splash orange near neighboring rocks.
          Flowers unfold as if blossoming prose.

          The lilac sheds fragrance where rabbits doze.
          Snapdragons dance in the windowsill box.
          Petals shape poetry where gardens grow.

          Black iris gleam like the plumage of crows.
          Blue giant speedwell pairs well with red fox.
          Flowers unfold as if blossoming prose.

          Bluebells and tulips companion in rows.
          Rock cress cascades over walls built of blocks.
          Petals shape poetry where gardens grow.

          Warm weather launches a rainbow-like show.
          Crocus skyrocket to crack winter’s lock.
          Flowers unfold as if blossoming prose.
          Petals shape poetry where gardens grow.

Beginning with her title, Roberts transports me to springtime, to color, to fresh air … fresh air physically, yes, but also fresh air conceived at a deeper level. The level of life, that life is good, that life is worth the effort. Here, nature’s visible aspects merge, almost magically, with my inner-world. What is seen is subsumed by the unseen. How many poets write at this level?

The Poet’s Range of Subjects

Roberts’ interests include nature, global warming, birds, the pandemic, and spiders. There’s more, “Ode to the Outhouse,” gets readers acquainted with the “two-seater plank.” Politics gets treated with “The January Hope of Inauguration Day, 2021.” “The Diphthongal Glide,” will guide you into a delightful encounter with that little used part of speech. Nothing is off limits or out of range for this poet. “The Collapse” is Roberts’ take on 9-11, twenty years later. Pets get poetic justice, “In Praise of Our Pets.” Many will agree that love and well-being reveal themselves through pets and poems. “On Bended Knee,” is a poem about beer. Don’t miss this one! In fact, don’t miss any of the poems in this collection. I didn’t!

All these topics and more breathe the air of Jeannie Roberts’ poetic craftsmanship and heart for life; two traits that define excellence in poetry.

Early in the book, Roberts defines the villanelle form in detail including the correct rhyme-scheme and scanning parameters. Nice introductory touch. The Ethereal Effect would be useful as a text in a graduate-level creative writing course.

With so many great poems from which to choose, I pondered hard about which one to conclude my review.

Exhibit B

          Fill Vessel with Love
                    To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.

          Release offenses, abandon locked doors,
          empty grudge buckets, remove mulish gloves–
          to fend for resentment nets nothing but war.

          Jettison anger, establish rapport,
          practice compassion, fill vessel with love–
          Release offenses, abandon locked doors.

          Free the ill feeling, unburden your core,
          to remember with rancor deflects love–
          To fend for resentment nets nothing but war.

          If you feed it, heed it, safeguard its spore,
          tend to its growth, you emaciate love–
          Release offenses, abandon locked doors.

          If you imprint its curse, echo its roar,
          abide in its blemish, you impair love–
          To fend for resentment nets nothing but war.

          If you tally the injuries, keep score,
          the olive branch fractures, as will the dove.
          Release offenses, abandon locked doors–
          To fend for resentment nets nothing but war.

Jeannie Roberts has accomplished something special. Take her hand … let her lead you into the world of The Ethereal Effect.

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