Small Porcelain Head, Allison Benis White (Four Way, 2013), Reviewed by Analicia Sotelo
In Allison Benis White’s second collection, Small Porcelain Head, a doll is a kind of eternity, and so is the death of a friend. In this long, sustained poem, sentimentality is not sweet—it’s obsessive, bittersweet and sad. You would think the Victorian trope of the porcelain doll as fragile innocent was done, but White has resurrected it. Like a child who plays with dolls to imagine grown-up life, the woman in these poems plays with a doll (her friend) to imagine grown-up death, or what it must be like to want to die: “after they tried, many said they changed / their minds” (29). Hers is an unusual empathy that is so dark, steady and clear it’s as if her friend is influencing her when she says: “As with every revelation, midair, oblivion / is realigned and clarified: I want to die / then decide” (29). Religious doubt is everywhere in this book, from the repeated conditional “if” to the speaker’s fragmented wish for a cure to separation. Read Small Porcelain Head to deeply consider whether it’s possible to have one thing in this world we can keep, “one thing” to “love carved from everything” (19).