Online Edition: Spring 2002

Zirconia by Chelsey Minnis

Zirconia

Chelsey Minnis

Fence Books ($12)

by John Erhardt

Part of the allure of a prose poem is that there is one continuous "line"; every word is on a level playing field, so the content of the poem takes center stage. In her first book, Chelsey Minnis has discovered a way to write prose poetry while uniquely stressing individual words and phrases, thus creating a brand of prose poetry that draws attention to itself internally without sacrificing the very thing that makes it operate. Her technique: to populate the prose poems with lengthy ellipses, sometimes ranging hundreds of periods in length, creating varying distances yet maintaining connections. Actually, it is inaccurate to call these true "ellipses," since nothing at all is omitted from her poems; rather, they function as ligaments:

............when my mother.......................................
....................was raped.........................................
......................................................................
...a harpsichord began to play........................................
....................................red candles melted....and.........
.......spilled down the mantle........................................
................................there was blood in the courtyard......
.............and blood on the birdbath................................
...and blood drizzled....on brown flagstones..........................
........................as a red fox bared its teeth..................

Let's get one thing straight: the abundant periods in Zirconia are no more a distraction than the absence of all punctuation is in Merwin's work. In fact, if we take a poem from the book and lineate it, we produce a very Merwin-esque poem:

and it is torture for my mother
that I am now luscious
and she is dead
and that I have
bare shoulders
and a flower behind my ear
as I beat gentleman rapists
with bronze statuettes
so that the blood
oozes down their handsome sideburns
or give them
a poisoned mushroom
or corsages and corsages of gunshot

We've spent decades praising Merwin for his innovations, and Minnis deserves to be extended a similar courtesy; her poems, like his, offer a meandering single line with no definitive beginning, middle, or end. Thus, she manages a relaxed and readable tone, yet retains the enjambed quality of a well-crafted line break. Minnis proves that you can have it both ways.

She is no one-trick pony, though. While much of the book's mystique arises from her playful formal constructions, there is real charm at work here ("When I was a young girl, my parents hated me and wouldn't give me the right kind of food. I used to steal Barbies and hide them in unique places all over the house, but I took no joy in it.") The voice of the book teases us into following wherever it wanders. Likewise, the characters that inhabit Minnis's poems are somewhat cartoonish, yet we never question their reality. They have exaggerated allegorical professions (such as "head torturer" and "terrible ballet teacher") and they inexplicably prevent Minnis from living out her fantasies:

...uh..........I want to wear hot pants............................................
..................................................................................
..................................................and rest my boot on the back
of a man's neck...............................................................

Much of the book concentrates on what Minnis desires, or what she feels she's ready to experience ("I'm ready to plunge into furs.....and reject the standards of my past"). In this sense, she offers direct mental transcriptions of her craving to be released from the now. Her poems are moments of decadent sexuality and unattainable fantasy, and they demonstrate what happens when the world consistently gets between us and what we want. Minnis's world is a world of conspiracy. And she's gotten it right: In the end, we suspect everyone's in on it but her.

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Spring 2002 Table of Contents