Baby, I Don’t Care

reviewed by Maya Phillips

It is hard not to be charmed by Chelsey Minnis’s dangerously flirtatious Baby, I Don’t Care, which draws from and is inspired by the glamour, absurdity, and dark underpinning of Hollywood’s golden era. Minnis’s speaker is the kind of woman who wears “high heels by the pool” and likes “to eat sweets in bed while wearing feathered dressing gowns.” Using short five-line stanzas with mostly end-stopped lines, Minnis works within the constraints of a form that reads like a collage of lines taken from the lipsticked mouths of 1950s female starlets. The effect is a whip-smart series of one-liners linked by the themes named in each titled section, like “Laziness” (“Here’s my plan— / let’s fall asleep on chaise longues while we wait for some money”) and “Romance” (“Darling, I want you to buy me a car in my favorite color. / My favorite color is wine”). It may be tempting to read the poems as a series of punch lines, but the book is smarter than that; even as Minnis’s speaker uses the seductive language of old Hollywood, musing about money and new romances and sipping cocktails in the afternoon, the poems never fail to engage in irony. The book swings manically in tone, pairing droll humor (“I love to go to bed sober, / which means I have to start drinking early.”) with casual threats of violence (“Darling, you have such a soft belly. / I always want to cut a soft belly. I can’t help it. / No, don’t try to get away”). After all, this woman is a self-described “hungry tigress” and gold-digger, a feminine trope who has brief, striking moments of self-realization. Just as Baby, I Don’t Care plays with those dated American notions of love, wealth, and female celebrity, so too does it poke at darker themes with disturbing verve (“Behold my dazzling mental illness like a chandelier”) and devastating resolve (“I get lonelier and lonelier and then I eat all the pink capsules for dinner”).

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2018.