Review by Brandi Spering
Chelsea Arnold’s Recalculating is a plow, determined to create an exit in a cul-de-sac of white privilege and racism. This collection does more than just kick around dirt. It hones in on these topics by discussing the deep-rooted hypocrisy that is embedded in the United States, through sectors such as Christianity, politics, and healthcare. As these concepts spool together, Arnold incorporates a personal narrative that reflects on her own hand of beliefs and actions.
There is a lot to consider about the young white girl on the cover, as well as the phrase on the back—”Pointing a finger at you, him, her, them, and myself.” Despite stating clear convictions and making valid points, the beginning reads with a huff of superiority, separating Arnold from the whiteness around her. This emulates the ease and popularity of pointing the finger away from yourself. However, once Arnold has dissected the room, she turns to dissect herself.
Recalculating has elements of lyrical poetry, using rhyme and meter. For the most part, these devices work in favor of bridging transitions from one thought to the next. However, there are inconsistencies in the delivery of Arnold’s longer pieces such as I Never Knew You, Reevaluating the Rorschach, and Coffee & Water. The majority of these long blocks of text are made up of strong couplets that deserve much more than snaps, but are overpowered by the repetition of already stated thoughts, and the occasional line that does not rhyme. This removes the reader from what is otherwise a carefully constructed narrative. I often had to take a step back and consider how to read Arnold’s work; I felt the need to perform it, to read out loud as spoken-word poetry. This approach is more powerful.
Each poem is time-stamped, bouncing between 2018 and 2019. As it progresses, the rhymes become looser as the constraints presented in the first half start to unravel. This creates a contrast that represents an inward progression of the speaker. As the poems become shorter, they become tighter. One could interpret this as a conceptual metaphor for the mentalities and concepts discussed throughout this work, as the speaker becomes more aware of their own unconscious perpetuation.
I suggest reading this collection in parts, letting it nest as you digest bit by bit. Although each can stand on its own, it is what each poem does as a neighbor and confidant that enriches them individually and as a collection. What I loved most was the use of references, especially of media or through well-known names (news anchor, health clinic, TV shows, to name a few), as well as biblical, through repeated images of chickens and hens. Chelsea Arnold’s Recalculating might appear to emulate a telescope or satellite at first glance, but conceptually, that is her point and it allows her scope to be vast.