by Chelsey Minnis
Wave Books | April 2009
When first setting foot into the pools of metaphor that make up the landscape in Poemland by Chelsey Minnis, you might be confused of what each small body of water aims to reflect. You peer in and see yourself; you step back and see
the sky of the invented world; you step back even further, one foot in one pool, one in another, and see past the sky, to yourself, peering into the book. Aha.
The book opens, “This is a cut-down chandelier… / And it is like coughing at the piano before you start playing a terrible waltz…”, an immediate acknowledgement of the self-consciousness that is writing a book of poems. The modern notion of poetry as something that, by making it obvious, tears away at the beauty of something that is more useful as part of the scenery, is also shared by these opening lines. Poemland is essentially a book written about poetry in a strong voice using a variety of different outlooks. Its quirks—ellipses, exclamation points, extensive and extended metaphors—become less and less obvious as you become accustomed to the geography of the book.
The individual poems in the book take up many pages, are not titled or numbered and achieve their own cohesion while maintaining the structure of the book as a whole as well. While the book’s theme never veers from the subject of poetry, the individual poems manage to also encompass a number of other things: gender issues, relationship problems, morality, the existence or non-existence of god, etc.
Perhaps the most visited theme in the vast levels of metaphor and simile that the book holds together is one found in the opening lines: self-deprecation. Is it the ease of technology, allowing anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection to communicate what might be better kept hidden that brings out this bashfulness in twenty-first century poets’ work? For to be a poet is to take one’s inner deepmost thoughts and spirits and let them loose to the world – something any fourteen year old girl’s facebook status update might do in relaying the message “jeff didn’t call back. i am dpressed. txt!!” Displaying one’s thoughts and emotions to the waiting world has become easy. As a poet, you must earn your audience. To be a poet takes a sort of courage that anyone updating their facebook status must have but more, though: “And this is boring intensity… / When I want it to be high-priced violets… Thrown in the trash…” (81). Poetry is finding beauty in every unexpected place. Poemland is this place, full of truth and foolishness and longing and beauty.
Oh, but what are the chances your neighbors have anything good by the curb on trash night? Perhaps the same chance that your friend’s fourteen year old sister will come up with something brilliant as her facebook status… And Minnis says, “With my poetry, I want to barricade myself from other people’s poetry…/ This is a chance to tell the truth” (37). Being a poet encompasses the chagrin of allowing others into your mind, but also letting them out knowing one thing: at least the poem was honest. Minnis, perhaps, distances herself entirely from the modern technological binary of shameless self-aggrandizing/deprecation by limiting her truth-telling to these pages, and at the same time brushing off her poetry as “just some incomprehensible money” (63).
Minnis wants us to know that to her poetry is “like waking up drunk in a lemon yellow room…” (5) but also “like a window that looks into a swimming pool… / Or an empty gun indentation in velvet…” (73). Once you are accustomed to the bright colors and strange foliage of her world, Minnis’ Poemland becomes comprehensible, and even beautiful, in all its sulky, mad-at-the poetry-world glory and truth.