1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?
Poemland by Chelsey Minnis. Like slip ‘n’ slides, the lines in this book flash through me as if without effort. Simple sentence structure becomes the blank background against which philosophical ambiguity can “pop.” It reminds me of my favorite genre films—Westerns, noirs, romantic comedies—where pleasure is the child of formal familiarity and conceptual splendor.
But a level up from line or sentence in Poemland is page, on which 3 to 5 of these hot lines are frozen in place. The minimalist design of Poemland stops, focuses, and slows the reading eye. Whitespace-burnished text makes me think of a cattlebrand in snow. The lines are so clever and exciting, I only want to read the next one. But in the quiet of the page they linger on my inner eye anyway. I love this effect. To be sped on by one formal element and slowed by another.
2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?
I was living in my hometown, sulking, earning money. I remember drinking six packs of Shock Top on my porch, swatting mosquitoes and reading Poemland in the orange glint of the street-lamp while the neighbor’s three chained-up dogs chased squirrels as far as their chains would permit, then barked. I ordered it online because I’d loved Zirconia and Bad Bad, but the experience of reading Poemland was even more fluid to me, since the book was so understated and visually clean, with little typographical hijinx. The lines were just there, spiderwebs of proverbs. Or breaths. So I wasn’t thinking as much when I read it, just breathing.
3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?
Yes, I’ve been writing a bunch of stuff that riffs on the forms repeated throughout Poemland: simile, aphorism, image, in groups of three to five, some twined logically, some intuitively. Individually satisfying lines, arcing over individually satisfying pages, arcing over individually satisfying sections, arcing through a satisfying book. By satisfying I suppose I mean surprise… tethered to a reality I recognize. Mimicking this wheels-within-wheels-within wheels approach to what I consider a formally “accessible” verse has helped me understand the nature of aphorism, simile, and image, and their relationship to lyric. Before I thought deeply about Minnis I misunderstood image as just picture, simile as just logic, aphorism as just truth—but sound and rhythm always do the heavy lifting. Poemland continues to instruct me in this. Over and over it sings without singing. Lyric is more like a chained siren than an aria-ing diva, which to me is more amazing. It makes the speaker seem realer. Whose music is both more necessary and invisible, like blood. As opposed to the clothing we wear. Even though it’s all skin.
4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…
This is the first page of the book.
This is a cut-down chandelier…
And it is like coughing at the piano before you start playing a terrible waltz…
The past should go away but it never does…
And it is like a swimming pool at the foot of the stairs…
The first two images are about poetry so they are appropriately sad and beautiful; or they are about beauty, so the are appropriately sad and poetic. Also nostalgic. And funny. The aphorism about the past is true and beautifully flat. Should should always be holding hands with never. Romantic. The final line lazily, barely, but completely synthesizes both, the past and poetry, to show you exactly what the sad ocean you will drown in looks like. I actually think this poem is too good and therefore depressing and I wish I hadn’t examined it just now.
5. Who did you send this book to, why?
This book is so easy to read, I think everyone I know has read it already. If anyone out there hasn’t read it, and wants to, email me at mark leidner at gmail dot com, and I’ll send it to you.
Bio: Mark Leidner is the author of several chapbooks, most recently Romantic Comedies, published by Chuckwagon Press. He lives and tweets in western Massachusetts.