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  • Kelly Jarvis

Phantom Reflection and We Could Be Lovers by Kim Malinowski

The constructs of poetic inspiration and romantic love have been mingled for centuries, and Kim Malinowski’s works, Phantom Reflection and We Could be Lovers, breathe new life into this ancient pairing. Both are sweeping stories rendered in beautiful verse that will leave readers contemplating the boundaries that define the borders of the self.

From the beginning, Phantom Reflection, a retelling of the book and musical versions of The Phantom of the Opera, captures the intensity of love and desire that pulses beneath the original plot. Malinowski’s version pits The Artist against The Man of Words as they compete to possess the soul of Christine. The poem unfolds as characters gaze into mirrors implying that the story about the three protagonists is refracted and reflected in the larger study of what human love offers to and requires of those who surrender to it.

The poetry in this verse novel is beautifully rendered. Colorful brushstrokes and pools of ink become manifestations of the men’s desires and prompt the question “Does one sacrifice their art / for a kiss?”. Malinowski delves into the desires of Christine as she struggles to choose between two men who crave to own her. While she asks poignant questions such as “Oh, what is love but painting / a lifetime together?”, she also recognizes that she wants to “outrun / love’s terror” and wonders “Do feet that waltz alone do any less?”. The novel shines a blinding light on the obsessive qualities of erotic love while also striving to define the individual self through art, agency, and choice.

Like the original story, Phantom Reflection explores the roles of the muse and the artist and alludes to the idea that all people wear metaphorical masks. Fans of The Phantom of the Opera will find much to love in the words and ideas of Malinowski’s novel and will rejoice as the female artist is empowered by the conclusion of the poem.

Malinowski provides readers with another intense exploration of poetic inspiration and romantic love in her upcoming work We Could Be Lovers. This poem opens with a poet who is observing the statues and strollers in a contemporary park when a good-looking stranger passes her a closed umbrella, winks, smirks, and opens his own leather journal to begin writing as music pours from his headphones. The moment’s odd intimacy prompts the poet to think “we could be lovers”. What follows is a sweeping story that oscillates between their silent companionship in the park and recollected imaginings of their past lives together. She has been a healer and he has been a warrior. Past love, past loss, and past repetitions of survival echo through the poem as the poet explains “He holds me as if we have known each other for millennia. / He holds me like we have met only moments ago”.

In the hour and a half that the strangers commune together on the bench, they participate in intimate moments through the shared act of writing. He glances over at her papers, and she wonders if her words might woo him. She imagines “our words dancing / syllables merging” and notes that “Words flow and halt mysteriously” as “The stranger and I scratch out / memories and love, / lie to ourselves, tell stories, / scream”. In each generation of their love, they are beset by demons, creating a tapestry that captures the turbulence and depth of passion. The narrative offers a stunning look at love and the way it is both defined by and transcends time. It also captures the beauty of inspiration, imagination, and creation with its metacognitive contemplation of the poet’s work.

We Could be Lovers left me thinking about the intimacy that passes between strangers and how strange intimacy itself can be. The poem, which takes place over the course of one afternoon, is both small in scope and vast in its reach as it connects us to the ideas of our ancestors and the way that the enormity of love helps us to define the self. In one of my favorite passages, the poet says “I am beautiful, even in this thin place. / Not because he says I am beautiful, / but because I blaze”.

Phantom Reflection and We Could be Lovers by Kim Malinowski will leave readers spellbound as they journey deep into the imagination and back again. The words and ideas in both poems offer readers new and creative ways of contemplating love, poetry, and the spaces we use to define ourselves as individuals and as connected pieces in the vast galaxy of human life.

You can find a copy of Phantom Reflection HERE

And learn more about We Could Be Lovers HERE

Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in literature, writing, and fairy tale at Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and Tunxis Community College. She lives, happily ever after, with her husband and three sons in a house filled with fairy tale books.


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