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By (April 1, 2009) No Comment

by Chelsey Minnis
Wave Books, 2008

Chelsey Minnis is something of a poet’s poet, and to certain readers her third book, Poemland, will come off as undisciplined, even ridiculous. But to readers who want to be in on the joke, that is exactly the point. And it is, the book itself professes, “a very expensive joke,” but it is also “a fistfight in the rain under a held umbrella” … “a chance to tell the truth” … “crap coming toward you on a conveyor belt” … “a regretted regret” and “double everything!” Poemland is a book-length definition of what poetry is and what it does, a description through over-the-top metaphor (“This is meat colored candy”) of what being a poet is like. So those who hate poems about poems need not apply: “This is a long boring attack,” she writes. But for a reader like me, who dislikes description and similes in their usual context, this book is anything but boring.

Minnis’ trademark is the forbidden punctuation of ellipses and exclamation points:

You must have some sort of agenda to promote in poetry!

Such as self-sympathy or vengeance…

You must seduce and counter-seduce…

And glow with extreme sensual grievance…

Like an undeserved sunset…

This is part of the poet’s self-announcing form of subversion. Her poems are subversive, but they’re delivered in the voice of a naughty little girl who defies “god’s wish” by passing out on the “sticky floor” at “catholic school.” (This girly yet grotesque aesthetic helped spur Arielle Greenberg to coin the term “Gurlesque” in 2002.) It’s the voice of a girl who indulges in funeral daydreams: “If you die everyone tells a sad story about you! […] Do not die or everyone will continue to care only about themselves and not you!” This adolescent logic is later echoed in a snide dig at every grownup writer’s fantasy of living on after death through writing: “Death will come to end swinishness… // But my swinishness will continue in my poems…!” This is what Minnis excels at—teetering in perfect balance between the childishly vapid and the ultimately truthful. To write poetry, Poemland claims, is “to enchant someone meaninglessly.” And the book enchants with a long attack of self-contradicting truisms and glittering images of a bad girlhood.

Elisa Gabbert is the poetry editor of Absent and the author of The French Exit (Birds LLC) and Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press, 2007). Her latest chapbook co-written with Kathleen Rooney isDon’t ever stay the same; keep changing (Spooky Girlfriend Press). Recent poems can be found inColorado ReviewThe Laurel ReviewPuerto del Sol, and Salt Hill.