"I exist in a blister of fantasy," proclaims the narrator of this self-assured and often deeply satisfying debut. Similar in form, style, and rhetorical strategy, each of the poems in Zirconia is, in essence, an associative riff on a particular object (a tiger lily, a skull ring, the moon), or in some cases, a state of mind (grief, confusion, ecstasy). Minnis's sharp-tongued, sexy, and somewhat juvenile narrator uses these obsessive, fetishistic examinations to both describe and insert the reader into a dream statea kind of mythic consciousness, in which memory and desire transform the stuff of everyday life into charged symbols of, well, memory and desire. In "Sectional," the narrator "sink[s] into a reverie in leather," while chewing on a piece of caramel and "reliving/a moment and revolving." The poem spans her moment on the couch, chewing the candy, touching the leather, and attempting to "evaluate/the reverie/in the enormous moments."
Clearly designed to be read consecutively, the poems fit together like a puzzle, forming an abstract portrait of the narrator, a trickster who swerves from sophisticated observation ("you/perhaps/want to be torn in half/rather than endure/the hurt/of desire") to blank recitation ("supervermilion/infrared/warpath/bloodlines"), from ironic humor suitable to McSweeney's ("I am very excited about the skull ring") to overwrought sentimentality ("and you want to grind your sorrows/into it"), and from high poetic diction ("which indicates a conscience ensconced") to banal conversational prose ("One Sunday, my parents discovered the Bridal Barbie I had hidden in the freezer. . . . ").
Though Minnis's narrative voicehalf-smirking, half-weepinglends Zirconia much of its appeal, the poet's most striking (and daring) move is a stylistic one. All but three of the poems are composed in a fragmented manner, using periods to eat up the white space of the page (in the quotes above, slashes stand in for wide fields of periods), like this, from "Maroon":
By Chelsey Minnis
Fence Books, 68 pp., $12
Buy this book
...........sleepy and strong........................................... .....................with matted fur and saline..................
When it works, the effect is brilliant. The typographic dots guide the eye through the individual poems, furthering the dream-state effect by slowing down the reader as words swim out from periods, their meanings accentuated. But it doesn't always work. In flimsy poems like "Sunburns" and "Supervermilion," the periods come off as a lazy way of injecting depth into otherwise superficial pieces.
Other book reviews this week:
Joy Press on More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Richard Gehr on In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in New York.