Telling It Slant: Avant-Garde Poetics of the
Edited by Mark Wallace and Steven Marks
University of Alabama Press, 2002
446 pages with index. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-1097-5
Edge Books, 2002
$10.00 (paper), ISBN 1-890322-12-X
These two books are easy to compare since Heather Fuller puts into
effective practice some of the poetic theories offered by the essays
in Telling It Slant.
One of the latest editions in the University of Alabama Press's Modern
and Contemporary Poetics Series, Mark Wallace and Steven Marks's Telling
It Slant attempts to rebut two charges lingering around the post-L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E
avant garde poetic community: first, that nothing significant has
happened since the early eighties, second, that part of the absence
is because writers seeking new territory since then haven't written
effective poetic statements. "The essays collected here,"
write the editors in their introduction, "answer both concerns."
Included in the collection are
C. S. Giscombe's essay "Fugitive," a criticism as art piece;
Lisa Robertson's writing about the manner and motive of her appropriation
of the pastoral, the key to which is to "refuse to be useful;"
Christopher Funkhouser's essay on Cyberpoetics which he opens with
this telling reversal: "literary journals and new poetic authorship
have begun to inject technology with human sensitivities and sensibilities;"
and "Raw Matter: A Poetics of Disgust" by Sianne Ngai, which
charts the possibilities of disgustas opposed to desireas
a territory for expression.
While the views the essays offer are various, there is a subtle and
recurring hum in each: the drive towards a poetics of hybridityreferred
to in different essays as "sampling," "joining,"
"free multiplicity of form." Even when in conflict, the
poetic hybrid engages a variety of forms, theories, contents, sources,
and procedures with sincerity. Kristin Prevallet points out in her
essay, whereas collage takes disparate contents and forms and combines
them often for the purpose of showing what the original fails to produce,
hybridity affirms even as it alters the modes reproduced in the poem.
As Juliana Spahr writes in her cogent essay "spiderwasp or literary
the most distinct characteristic of work by emerging poets of the
1990s: the tendency to violate the aesthetic separations of various
schools and to deliberately create an aesthetic of joining
all this work can be characterized by its refusal of allegiance
to any specific school and by a parallel proclamation of an allegiance
to more than one school.
This multiplicity of content and form that Spahr and others note
is the leitmotif of the collection. While this theme recurs, the majority
of these essays are not outright manifestos. Instead, the essays provide
some of the first lucid examinations of a living, compelling poetic
trend that has emerged over the last decade.
"What does living here / mean for my shoes" writes Heather
Fuller in "You Follow" from Dovecote, Fuller's second
full length collection. This comprehensive, shoe-level perspective
runs throughout these poems, as they explore the histories of the
poor, the working class, and the homeless. In "Apostal Decision
(Time Sensitive)" an epistolary response to a letter that
the poem gives the means to find on the Internetshe writes about
people she met while working in a homeless shelter:
the shelter walls were the color of street is
celadon a color because the celadon walls or
was it a prehistory to
speak there means to
speak of the dead we are
now dead as we are
painted there Heather made poems there except
the wall is not there was it to prove
technical expertise that resulted in portraiture
on the wall a veil sprouting horns my hair
Jesse asks Heather how is Perreaoult Jesse's
skeptical because Jesse's the only one not dead
so everything Heather says is an enormous
grain of salt he was a good artist that
then I know he is dead as the living is
the convergence of how we got there
The poem poses the shelter as a kind of liminal space between worlds,
where transformation is possible. As with many of Fuller's poems,
the fragmented history presented in "Apostal Decision (Time Sensitive)"
has a here-and-now presence. Similarly, in "Quarter" Fuller
looks at the connection between barbed wire and history, jostling
words and phrases together in ways that meander in and out of easy
meaning. She writes "Virginia tore through Plate / when a child
could die / out of pain and Kelly Jo / unborn was a mouthful of dirt
/ devil to Doc's twister // flesh caught on a barb / was a good question."
Images of children, devils, roads, and work recur through the poem
as it examines the way pain makes history.
Throughout the collection, Fuller's method exemplifies some of the
theories of hybridization that the essays in Telling It Slant
discuss. The poems combine first person narrative, fragmented subjectivity,
collage, prose forms, drawings, folktales and language, found information,
directions, web-pages, composition by field forms, and even, in "retro
fit," a poem that is almost sonnet-like. Some of these qualities
appear in "You Follow:"
D.C. General Baby A
Baby Boy Morales
Baby Girl Luther 1
Baby Girl Luther 2
Potomac Baby C
what head split from so much theft
that the bag on my shoulder
when dispensing aspirin amovement
she was stalking bread ends
because the exchange rate
travelers checks excepted
bitumen pupil conspiracy
we who will not be forgiven
to seize each 1-800 Mary
women exiting corporations
where Cerberus phone etiquette
all these women I should know
beneath the pentagon
the road one long pressure plate
the camera bloody with shots
The poem traces a path through public space, work space, and prophecy,
examining the violence ubiquitous in these structures. Dovecote
is a worthy sequel to Fuller's first book, perhaps this is a rescue
fantasy, explicitly interested and openly involved in the world, seeking,
as she writes in "beggar," "to know the day by not
a box but what springs up."
Both of these books are leaving points: stable ground from which
writers and readers can begin to see where the next generation of
poets will take us. Heather Fuller and the writers included in Telling
It Slant will continue to set the pace, suggest possible new territories,
and demand vitality from all the camps of the poetry world.