Fabulous Essential by Niina Pollari
(Birds of Lace Press, San Francisco, 2009)
In her recent chapbook Fabulous Essential, Niina Pollari uses everyday objects as a point of entry to significant questions about femininity, romance, and relationships. Written as a series of stunning, image-rich lyric poems, Pollari's meditations on domestic life offer subtle critiques of gender hierarchy while at the same time challenging the predominantly male artistic tradition that her generation has inherited. As the speakers of these poems struggle to negotiate received ideas about female identity with modern life, Pollari simultaneously invokes and questions a range of literary conventions, thus offering readers a skillful matching of form and content.
With that said, the author's use of fragmentation proves especially noteworthy as the chapbook unfolds. As Pollari's narrators seek alternatives to contemporary social relations, many of her poems diverge from more traditional approaches to narrative, instead functioning as collages of images and sounds. In other words, this concern with revising established cultural ideas is skillfully enacted in the style of the poems themselves. In a piece entitled "Prayer, On Fire," for instance, she writes,
And now you're an animal somehow.
Going under to spite
your technologies' fail.
Repeat after me, blog it if you like.
The thermals of the earth are neverending, neverending.
Something about the Gulfstream
and something about love.
As the speaker addresses God, simultaneously inhabiting and interrogating religious tradition, Pollari shunts narrative convention in favor of a more elliptical style. Much like the poet skillfully frustrates the reader's expectation of a linear progression between events, she anticipates the reader's hope for an uncomplicated ending, in which the speaker accepts an inner life dictated by the beliefs of others. Pollari elegantly acknowledges the need such spiritual practice in the final two lines of the poem, while at the same time parodying the parameters circumscribed by the society she inhabits. "Prayer, On Fire," like other works in the collection, offers both philosophical musings and dazzling formal accomplishments, all the while remaining grounded in the tangible details of everyday life.
Moreover, Pollari skillfully suggests through her use of form that literary tradition and a modern feminist voice remain compatible, in much the same way that she negotiates received ideas with her speakers' own. While revising and reworking conventional narrative structures, the poet illustrates the ways in which such narratives may emerge from the post-modern cultural debris that fills the pages of her chapbook. These ideas are exemplified by "Snowman's Land," a love poem in which Pollari writes,
You with the frostblown pitcher
up to the eyes like a piece of spy gear. It distorts as you
expect. Above is cloudless, complete and blue.
In the limited scope one animal
retains, wringing itself around
the midget birch.
Just as Pollari suggests that romance remains compatible with modern female identity, she skillfully illustrates the ways in which poetic tradition and a more experimental style prove complimentary. By allowing an unconventional, stream of consciousness narrative to emerge from the speaker's associations between images and ideas, Pollari gracefully mirrors the speaker's skeptical acceptance of traditional gender relations. Like other works in Fabulous Essential, "Snowman's Land" proves contemplative, playful, and finely crafted.
All points considered, Niina Pollari's new chapbook is a must-read. Highly recommended.
Kristina Marie Darling is a graduate of Washington University. Her first full-length collection of poems, Night Songs, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press later this year. Awards include residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Prairie Center of the Arts, as well as a scholarship to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers' annual poetry conference.