Baby-Doll Under Ice by Katie Jean Shinkle

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Rather than lyric or imagistic intensity, sometimes it’s the all-out fierce trajectory of a collection, fueled by mystique, intrigue, pacing, etc., that wows us. Baby-Doll Under Ice, from Hyacinth Girl Press, delivers the aforementioned qualities, but at heart it’s the momentum, or descension—the continually downward spiral—of the poems’ two personae (Charotte and Baby-Doll) powering Shinkle’s collection. This mood of decline establishes itself early in the first prefatory poem, “Shades of Sub Rosa”:

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So the being-sucked-under begins. But sucked under what? The poem, “Baby-Doll’s Descent Into,” offers some insight:

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Here I have to pause to draw attention to Shinkle’s great ear, particularly the long drawn out mouthiness of “swallow,” “woman,” and “submerge,” and the way the submersion, sounded out by the acute vocabulary choice, is followed by the audible fragility of pairing “ice” with “create.” And notice how the breaking of the ice follows the submersion; it’s the little details like this, the narrative non-linearity of sensorial experience just ahead of the consciousness of physicality, that demonstrate Shinkle’s devotion to detail down to the propulsion of its very minutiae.

But lyrical acrobatics aside, these lines introduce the dichotomies that truly drive the collection: that of mind vs. body, consciousness vs. sensorial—manifestations of capital S self continually chasing each others’ tails in the hopes of reaching a higher understanding: thus the recurring circular imagery. Baby-Doll and Charlotte never explicitly interact, but they do appear joined by the symbiotic impulse to cycle through one another. Often their relationship is understood by comparing facing pages, making this an almost living book, in some ways. On one page:

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And on the opposite page:

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One wonders whether a unified Baby-Doll/Charlotte persona is yet another circle, a sort of Heraclitean step into the same yet ever differing river. There are many possibilities here. No matter the answer, the personae continually recede into each other like a matryoshka doll, and there is pleasure in that.

Yet the poems conscientiously recognize that there is a sort of eternal regress built into this design, and it doesn’t escape Shinkle to expand the poems well beyond self-study. In “Machicolation,” for example, Shinkle zooms out and examines the larger ramifications of ouroboros-like ideologies:

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Where it may seem trite to leave the downward spiral in the purely personal realm, Shinkle pushes herself to larger critique, one that is, of course, well open to interpretation, but is assuredly an understanding that, if we want to fully mine our personal cyclings and sinkings, we must also mine those of the interpersonal—and vice versa.

Baby-Doll Under Ice is available from Hyacinth Press

Jake Syersak is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at the University of Arizona. His poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in CutbankPhoebe, and Ninth Letter. He is the author of the chapbook Notes to Wed No Toward from Plan B Press. He edits Sonora Review and Cloud Rodeo.

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