Wave Books, 2009
If you agree with Aristotle when he writes in the Poetics that “the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” and that such mastery is “a sign of genius,” then you might also agree that Chelsey Minnis is a brilliant mastermind.
In her mirthful and melancholy fourth book Poemland, she writes, “The past should go away but it never does... / And it is like a swimming pool at the foot of the stairs...” and that “This is a poem because it squeezes you... / It is a shimmer like flushing sequins down the toilet...” and that “This is like getting hit with a folding chair / And being held by your braids...” and that’s just within the first three pages.
Good metaphors operate by violating logic—they assert as true things that are obviously false or impossible—but they do so in a way that ends up making perfect sense. “When I try to write a poem it seems reasonable...” Minnis writes, “But it can never be reasonable...” In this regard, Poemland operates like one big self-aware metaphor, intelligently trying and failing to say what poetry is or isn’t.
The book is liberal in its employment of references to the 70s, its use of exclamation points, and its descriptions of preposterously appealing outfits including a “warm vanilla satin necktie,” “a swirl of sequins around a groin,” and “a dress called ‘the flaming rosebud’.” Even as Minnis jokily undercuts her own efforts, she succeeds in making her points and making wonderful poems. Pretty and sharp, polished and wild, reading this book is “like searching the toile pattern for a milkmaid with a shotgun.” And finding her. And being well-pleased. [Kathleen Rooney]