Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

"Sensual Math" by Alice Fulton (Norton, 1995)

In her book of essays, "Feeling as a Foreign Language" (Graywolf Press, 1999), she has a chapter where she annotates some of her poems. She does it well. "Some Cool" in this book is over 4 pages long. It's relaxed, easy to keep up with and doesn't really need annotations. The text jumps between three themes: decorating a Christmas tree, pigs going to slaughter, and writing a poem. There's some intermingling of themes, and lots of prose chopped up.

"Echo Location" is 2 pages long. There's a lot of quivering, sliding from one meaning of the word to another.

  • It begins "Stop quivering"
  • "The spirit uses me. It holds me up/ to the light like a slide./ It claims a little give, a quiver,/ can prevent a quake
  • "The Norman name for quiver-grass/ was langue de femme"
  • "That's why a little quiver can inscribe a night/ into your left breast,/ a day into your right"
  • "remember a quiver is a fist/ of arrows and the arrows' case, their clothes./ Is the weapon and the tremor,/ the cause and effect"
  • It ends with "You must think a little give/ leads to affinities: the arrow/ resembles the bird it will fly into"

Elsewhere some phrases sound good

  • "At least embarrassment is not an imitation./It's intimacy for beginners,/ the orgasm no one cares to fake." (p.6)
  • "The post-cold warriors held a summit/ full of East meets West/ high hopes. Why not hold a horizon?/ Something on the level" (p.10). "Talks on the fringes of/ the summit could eclipse/ the summit itself," the anchor/ admitted. Go figure" (p.11)

But there's much elsewhere that puzzles me. Here's the title and first stanza of a poem


It might mean immersion, that sign
       I've used as title, the sign I call a bride
after the recessive threads in lace==
the stitches forming deferential
              space around the firm design.
                      It's the unconsidered

I've no idea what the indentation's about. It's bizarre, distracting, and yet carefully organised. The '÷' symbol is under each title. Here it's confusing given the mathematical nature of the title, which doesn't mean "immersion" as far as I know (though in computing both == and === are used to denote different types of equality).

A few pages later in another poem there are no indentations, and some of the earlier themes are recollected -

"I hate rock," the dentist says,
changing the tape for its clone.
What does beige==what does lace==
what does pain imitate? The autopsy
of beige revealed a gelded rainbow,
upwardly mobile ideals. Lace
is a form of filth I hate

Why change the tape for its clone? But that's the least of my problems. And 6 pages later, there's "Immersion", which begins

Let it be horizon levitating on horizon
with sunrise at the center==
the double equal that means more
than equal to==within.

It's sensual math
and untied railroad tracks==
the ladder of gaps and lace
unlatched. It's staples
in the page and the swimmer's liquid lane.

More lace, and a traffic-jam of comparisons. Later (p.82, it's a long book), there's another poem that returns to the themes, this time more explicitly as a metaphor for writing. Here's the title plus the start. Indents are back in fashion

The Line are wound on wooden bobbins, formerly bones

A daughter like the openwork of lace==between
              the raised motif

              the field, formed by lines
       of thread called brides, shies back

So in part we need to read the book like a long poem. We need to build up a dictionary of what she's decided certain words and symbols should mean, which ties in with what she writes in "Feeling as a Foreign Language" - "The poet cannot build the sublime in thirty lines ... To feel the head-in-a-whirl intoxication of the sublime, readers must submit to the temporal demands of a long poem". It requires re-reading. Maybe some other time.

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