About to emerge from Ugly Duckling Presse in “Spring 2016” is the debut chapbook of Jennifer Stella, Your lapidarium feels wrought. Let’s get the necessary out of the way: just what is a lapidarium, anyway? According to Wikipedia: “A lapidarium is a place where stone monuments and fragments of archaeological interest are exhibited.” It is interesting to think about this museum-ish place being the thing that feels wrought, an almost certain degree of irony sparking out of the surface amidst the bangings and poundings.
The Pacific / is far for / momentum, my Pacific is so / close
It’s not wholly clear why Stella aims to use that particular phrase as the title, borrowed or original. The epigraph of the book is a similarly toned Anne Carson quote. The chapbook’s acknowledgments page thank Ben Lerner “for the concept and the title.” Nor does it have to be. The poetry, in all its beautiful fragmentation speaks for itself.
From your supple branch / break tongues. Eyes sieve / inside as kittens fill / thimbles.
A doctor based in NYC, Stella’s presentation of poetic language comes off as precise and methodical investigations into thoughts, ideas, patterns. As I paged through the book, slowly, I rarely knew what any of the poems were “trying to say,” and instead found myself focusing on the beautiful and often enigmatic imagery bubble to the surface. Such is the journey of Stella’s work: an urgency hanging from the edge of an instrument, like a scalpel or IV, like a bureaucratic muse.
You. / are the glitterati, / she says, you belong / on my nearest-bed / bookshelf
Staggered thoughts are often best presented in staggered form. Unlike my misrepresentation (visually) of pieces of Stella’s poems in this review, her poems know a peculiar, intimate space on the page. Due to the Internet’s constraints in line breaks and spacing, and due to my hesitancy to scan pages of Stella’s book, it will have to remain a surprise for the reader who actually acquires the physical chapbook.
Don’t worry, love— / I crocheted your epilogue / on rehoned records.
The spacing is complemented by the size of the poems themselves. The series, which features 19 of these fractures, these artifacts of text, is quite small, and each independent entity follows a similar patterns of shapes throughout the chapbook as a whole. In 2016, it is pleasantly refreshing to an exploration of the realm of the rectangle and the empty and filled space therein. Stella does so succinctly.
You and I had done / this to castles, trains / colliding rats. Of course the / key enveloped / you.
The chapbook is short and the core of it (as a body of writing) feels intentional in its length. There is density, and re-reading offers more pleasures as the rhythm becomes learned. But there is also a yearning for more. Like the works of Susan Howe or Joshua Marie Wilkinson, the conceptual element of Stella’s poetry would thrive in spaces of expansion, in the vast and exploratory. Should her gaze exist beyond the case full of antiquities, it will be wonderful to witness the emergence of the greater realm housing this wrought lapidarium.
Take a further look at this publication and/or snag a copy here. Note: this chapbook is limited to 500 copies.
Greg Bem is the Gaming Editor and a contributing writer for Queen Mob's. He has written numerous reviews for the Queen as well as other entities, including Rain Taxi, Seattle Poetry Lab, and a previous iteration of his personal blog. To hear about his upcoming reviews, follow him on Twitter.