"Now when I drive behind a Diesel-stinking bus On the way to the university to teach Stevens and Pound and Mallarmé I am homesick for war." ~Karl Shap...more"Now when I drive behind a Diesel-stinking bus On the way to the university to teach Stevens and Pound and Mallarmé I am homesick for war." ~Karl Shapiro, Bourgeois Poet
I love Chelsey Minnis and I think she is one of the most gifted writers publishing.
The problem with this book is the same thing that is so interesting about it: It is an encrustation in the shape of itself, made of the hardened guano of it's own self-loathing. This book is a self-fellating object. It is Poemland only--and nowhere else. It is about itself, the poem(s) that it is. It is also about death, futility, and the unsightly organs of human and poetic hubris, but ultimately these pledge allegiance to their country alone, and that country is Poemland. Everything else is façade, subtopical. Poemland reifies it's own futility in the shape of a book. It is like late Céline, not only for the ellipses. It is encrusted in its own gall as a shield from all touch or use: "With my poetry, I want to barricade myself from other people's poetry..." It broadcasts its limitations and ugliness from the pulpit of itself.
Page after page her characteristically cutting and alien metaphors are about the very page at hand. I would not be surprised if "This is..." appears 100 times in the book ("this" referring to the very poem being read, or poems generally). In a survey of the first 65 pages of the book (12 of which have no text on them, and none of which are longer than 7 lines) only 17 or 20 do not directly reference the poem at hand or poetry itself.
This is not why I think it is a failure. It is not a failure. It sets out to become exactly what it does. It is entirely, elegantly, vehemently resolved and internally consistent. It is even remarkable for this. It is a world unto itself and it does exactly and only what it acknowledges poetry to be capable of. It attempts nothing further. It is not a thing that aspires to travel, to get beyond the 'prison-house of language', to break itself against its style--or style itself--in order to get beyond itself. This is a planet that admits no visitors, no gases or creatures from other worlds. It can't touch them. It is a biodome of its own sequiny despair.
In this way I think the book actually occupies a position exactly opposite to the one an admired reviewer here has located it in. He quotes the book: "Sometimes I try to please someone that I hate... So that I can enjoy a range of satisfactions... You should always be doing a service for others... Even in poetry..." I agree absolutely with the cause he quotes this passage in service of. Against the "torrent of anti-usefulness" in poetry, he says that poems can and should "be of some use". But I think it is beyond dispute that this passage, in a book with 56 scanable bar codes, is deeply, deeply sarcastic. The "someone I hate" here is unquestionably the reader--if not someone else as well. It is the reader, who in a sense, is implicated in Minnis's imprisonment in the form. "Doing a service" here is just twisting the knife.
Still, there are here a few of the best aphorisms I've read in a long while. You just have to pop them out of the book like zits for them to be of any use. Also, I am intrigued by loathing. Also, Minnis is uncompromising in the extreme. Also, her gift is unmistakable. She is the old kind of writer. She would have made a better Modernist than post modern.
She needs a war in the way that the Dadaists needed them. WAR. Bombs. A physical crisis. This is what could make her certain of a usefulness. But Minnis has always let me down. It is part of what she does. Squander her immeasurable brilliance on sophmoric questions of style and self. It is as if she feels honorable for impaling herself on the limitations of what it means to write. The problem is that she overstates the limits, that insists upon them, dogmatically. In this she is kind of like Joe Wenderoth--an admirer of hers. Both seem to be allied with their own puberty in ways that are unseemly and also charismatic.
We should not forget what books and language have done to the world, i.e. make and preserve and destroy every inch of it. A world without The Bible, Freud, Marx, Darwin, The little red book. The Qu'ran. Various political declarations and documents. It is not this world. At the very least, these have been the funnel and implement of prelinguistic divinities and barbarisms only able to take on flesh by means of language.
Books are not meaningless. It is not necessary to build a posh little prison as Minnis has. Still, I loved being there. It was like doing coke off some model's cock in SouthBeach for 25 minutes. Then just leaving. But the hangover is that I am scared because we are so Roman. Scared that we have nothing to live for but our microscopic self-made hells.(less)
Incredible. Astonished. This is one of those books that puts tiny fingers in between the breaches in what one thought was a continuous idea of the pos...moreIncredible. Astonished. This is one of those books that puts tiny fingers in between the breaches in what one thought was a continuous idea of the possible in a book, and breaks it apart, leaving and making use of these fascinating new spaces. It is embarassing but I felt as if this book were a hose pumping a fuel hungry to be used, designed only for me, into my brain. It gets better and better. My organs are too destroyed to write any meaningful analysis, so: FUCKING BRILLIANT.(less)