Saturday, April 4, 2009

Poetry and ambition

Nobody writes about sunburn, whipcracks and negligees quite like Chelsea Minnis. She's not so quietly building up a body of work that does more than any one line, image or poem can accomplish. It's an argument about what poetry can mean at play in a world somehow both plush and spikey with lousy beautiful crystal gods and boffo luxuries. She's a little bit like Jeff Koons, but like a Koons where the pornstar ceramics and silver balloon bunnies have edges that could actually cut you. She read last night with Joshua Beckman and Noelle Kocut (whose "Poem for the End of Time" will knock you flat with awe). They'd just come from a reading at West Point, which blows my mind even to consider. Chelsey read a poem from her new book that's a response (after the fact) to a cadet's question about her goals for her poems:

"This a chain between your thighs...

This is a freedom from achievement...

Writing a poem is like trying to do something, isn't it?

It's like trying to have an ungroveling feeling."

I'm taping those lines to my mind.

Even as our culture starts emerging in fits from the encompassing fever dream of pure capitalism, Chelsea's mode means revolution in perspective: Do nothing. Do nothing deeply. It's the advocacy of Auden's "Poetry makes nothing happen." It rhymes with 9th century Zen Master Linji's "Nowhere to go, nothing to do." And, for that matter, with his famous shout, "If you see Buddha on the road, kill him." It corresponds to Baudelaire's whores and punks and clouds of ennui. It kills all the awards, all the teaching jobs, all the publications. As they will, after all, die anyway, it also always emerges triumphant. We cannot abide it. We cannot live without it. Chelsea's genius is to say yes yes yes yes yes and again yes to the botox in botux capitalism--so the botulism works its way into your face, dear reader, until you can feel it. So pretty it hurts. That's the goal, soldier. Your tools are a whip, a silver platter, and some mean lipstick.

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