When I found Chelsea Martin’s chapbook “What I Want and What I Want” in the small press section of Powell’s City of Books, I went in without expectations. You never really knows what you’re getting into when you pick up a little black and white book held together by two staples. It could be something that entertains you for a few minutes before you put it back and go about the rest of your trip to the book store, it could be some impenetrably abstract art-zine that dares you to “get it,” or, perhaps most horrifying/depressing to witness for the aspiring writer, the bootleg effort of another aspiring writer who just can’t break through.
My experience with “What I Want and What I Want” is none of these things. It is a funny, honest, portrayal of modern relationships. I know, I know, I couldn’t have made that sound more boring, but I’m serious! Just hear me out.
As I started to say above, often these teensy chapbooks go one of two ways for me: way heavy handed or haphazardly nothing special (or an altogether depressing combination of the two). What Martin does so well here has a lot to do with tone and delivery. The whole book has the feel of a pretty one-sided conversation with a friend that you don’t really mind is one-sided because said friend is interesting enough to hold your attention anyway. Every time I would be ready to tackle a longer prose-y part, I was always half-ready to be bored somewhere along the way—but I just wasn’t. From making coffees as a barista and talking about death with a coworker to explaining why she knows an inordinate amount of Sound Garden lyrics, I always felt engaged poetically and consistently entertained.
Martin writes of relatable and timeless problems like love or lack thereof, death, feeling directionless and other general existential anxieties. Her perspective feels fresh, very much her own, and without airs. And maybe it’s the sharp humor or the surprising nuggets of wit layered throughout, but something about it feels effortless and disarming.
Here’s a few of my favorite pages. These happen to be consecutive:
I have a vague notion that I’m in some kind of short break
between segments of my actual life, but when I try to
think concretely about the future I just visualize myself
wandering around Walgreens without a bra searching for a
one-day yeast infection treatment.
There should be a video game where the characters spend
a lot of time choosing between brands of soap, only
kinda listen to what other characters are saying, and go
to sleep alone thinking “How am I ever going to do this
over and over and over?”
When I had roommates they would do really annoy-
ing shit like ask me what I was doing and I would say,
“I don’t know,” in a bitchy tone. It just seemed really
obvious to me that what I was doing was standing in the
middle of the living room in one position for a very long
time with an intensely distant look on my face and then
moving slightly and standing in the new position for a
very long time for no real reason.
You can purchase “What I Want and What I Want” and more of Chelsea Martin’s work from her website jerkethics.com. Republishing was done with permission from the author.
Sean Kearney is a native of Northeastern Pennsylvania currently residing in Philadelphia’s neighborhood of Fishtown. He received is MFA from Arcadia University with a focus in Poetry in 2013. Sean is currently setting up readings and open-mics in Fishtown and floats between occupations such as dairy clerk, freelance journalist, and one-off mascot gigs. His hobbies include playing music, playing with cats, etc.