Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Ben Doller, FAUXHAWK

The word is a verb
but the word
is a noun

I noun you
I noun pronounce you
now pronoun you I do—

I am my wife’s wife.
I wive. I wave the news at a beetle
who must die.

It runs into and out of
this house
of mine. (“RUN”)

San Diego poet Ben Doller’s latest poetry title is FAUXHAWK (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2015). The author of the poetry collections Dead Ahead (Louisiana State University Press, 2001), FAQ (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2009) and Radio, Radio (Albany NY: Fence Books, 2010), as well as two collaborations, the poems in FAUXHAWK utilize an energized, and nearly manic, sense of play through erasure, repetition, exaltation, the footnote, lyric fragment and collage, as well as some of the most lively and gymnastic turns I’ve seen in a very long time. The collection is constructed with an opening, seemingly self-titled section of shorter poems before moving into shorter poem-sections: “Earing,” “Hello,” “Pain” and “Google Drive.” Part of what appeals about this collection is seeing the ways in which Doller is, with such a lively glee and a fierce intelligence, stretching out the boundaries of his own poetic, from the staccato-accumulations of a poem such as “[BEE]” (“I background my ground. / I backlist my list. // I backtalk my talk. / I backwash my wash.”), the erasure/excisions of the poem-section “PAIN”(“Consider thee carefully / what thou taketh for pain”), to underscoring the overwhelming footnotes of the poem “HELLO,” a short lyric poem awash with forty-six different footnotes, the first of which reads:

  1. Hello: The poem functions in the book as a phatic and in media res greeting as well as a belated introduction to certain poetic effects and themesthat are mobilized throughout the material. “Hello” is an Americanized compromise selected over the course of millennia from a multiplicity of alternatives: “holla” (stop, cease), “halon,” “holon” (to fetch), andmany more, hunting hollers (“halloo!”) and hailings. Each term conveys more a sense of pulling another into one’s sphere than an act of politesse or acknowledgement, an interruption or imperative as opposed to an introduction. Hail Caesar. Sieg Heil. Hey Girl. Halt your motion and attend to your addresser. Not until Edison successfully lobbied that the word be used as a greeting for telephone calls, a way to acknowledge the scratchy silence about to be breached, ws the term standardized. The telephone was originally envisioned as an open line between two offices, and a bell was originally proposed as a way to initiate a conversation until Edison’s suggestion (“I don’t think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away. What do you think?). Another Bell, Alexander Graham, who is credited with the invention of the telephone, but who appropriated much of the vital technology (including a liquid transmitter) from one Elisha Gray, argued for “Ahoy!”
The poem, “[BEE],” also, becomes a poem that, rhythmically, would be quite wonderful to hear aloud, and the sounds and rhythms that run through the breaks and collisions of Doller’s poems are quite striking. In FAUXHAWK, Doller articulates and explores the difficulties with language, and how language is so often misued and misappropriated, in an exacting and glorious music, and creating a fine and precise tension between drudgery and song. As he writes to open the poem “DUMMY”:

Isn’t it dumb
to write a

at a time.

“On Google Drive,” he writes, in the sequence/section “Google Drive,” “the eucalyptus trees / sing Philip Levine // behind the Korean / bakesales.” The sequence/section plays off of a form of poetic translation, opening with a quote by American poet Fanny Howe, who is referenced throughout the sequence: “I’m rewriting Fanny’s book probably a gift for a friend / Or from her file I stole it from the faculty lounge.” The sequence reads as a curious blend of possible translation and poetic response to Howe’s poetry, from the cadence to the ghazal-like fragments and connections between them, and his coy references to the strong undercurrent of Catholic faith that runs throughout her poetry. “Unlike myself,” he writes, “you are immune to cliché. / Yours is faith to write what you say // myself, I can’t always tell when I’m joking / and I pop out of bed plotting paths to get loaded.”

In the notes at the end of the collection, Doller informs that “‘Google Drive’ is a word-by-word writing-through of Fanny Howe’s ‘Robeson Street,’ from the book of the same title, published in 1985 by Alice James Books. The line ‘Schizophrenia is hearing voices, not doing them’ belongs to the comedian Maria Bamford.” Still, each referenced link to Howe’s writing throughout the sequence reads as both link and deflection, which could easily be a matter of Dollar utilizing Howe’s language, but not necessarily similar intentions, somehow allowing him opportunities to slip his own poem underneath the structure of what is a variation upon hers:

Blackbird stealth fighters sure make noise
Mach 12 over beachvolleyball totally Top Gun
Officehours are over, but there’s a Spanish Miltonist
Interviewing for an empty chair, holy smokes

The weather so soft I go vegan for the challenge
Hunger as an element, not hunger,
inconvenience as continuous present

You just know the daughters
Skyjacked the text

Paradise Lost, if these wars are my Vietnam
Oh Fanny I’ve barely watched
So no thanks
Hold the onions, shouldn’t you be on strike
You’ve been working since you made me my grassjuice

Three hundred and twenty seven more days
Are due this year and even with that many lives

I’d still be this lazy (“Google Drive”)

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