Heather Fuller
Washington, DC: Edge Books, 2002

Heather Fuller’s Dovecote is consummately a work of lyric: the poems unfailingly display a masterful sense of prosodic balance and rhythmic pacing. It is also, however, a critique of lyric complacency. In "Notes for Planners," Fuller writes:

the boy on the corner is losing
his pants that’s fashion and I
should enjoy the lyric moment
yet the concept of filling
warheads with active tense
somehow seems a grammar past
due in sick anagrams

It would be easy, and perhaps justifiable, to comment on the almost Frank O’Hara-esque quality of careless grace here, the delicate use of assonance and syncopated enjambment, the "sensual vividness" so often trotted out by conservative critics. But the poem wrenches us from the idyllically acausal lyric moment with a telegraphic "yet" that substitutes the inexorable grammar of nuclear reality. The anagrams are sick, perhaps, in part because they cannot be reassembled into units of sense and sensibility that we can live with — they are frozen, scrambled signifiers bent on frustrating our desire for coherence. And the poems in Dovecote themselves, in fact, are sometimes so fragmentary as to vex the very notion of the intact, coherent, "original" texts they seem to bear the traces of. These lyric shards and swatches insist on their own material immediacy at the same time that they announce their genesis in a traumatic moment of partial erasure. Forgetting and occlusion are thematized throughout the book, for example in "Codes South" ("things go missing") and "full logic system" ("I periodically disappeared for days / with memory of what I hadn’t done"). The titles of these two poems, in turn, are suggestive of ways in which the accidental relations formed by language can be adduced as (spurious?) evidence in the service of some proof or other. "Apostal Decision (Time Sensitive)," the first poem in the book, is laced with conditionals and qualifiers--"so," "except," "tho'," "but"--that are conspicuously unmotivated, establishing their relations and conclusions as if by an alien logic ("if not celadon at least it smelled like dirt"). At other times, the "evidence" offered is more transparent, if no less irrational: "he was a good artist that Perreaoult // then I know he is dead." Daniels is very much alive, of course; Fuller’s point, which surfaces elsewhere in the poem as well, is that art, whether visual or verbal, imposes a posthumous status on its creator by virtue of a distance imposed between work and artist by aesthetic discourses of objectification. Dovecote recognizes itself as implicated in this process whereby the artist is estranged from her own work and from her social identity in general: Fuller uses found phrases and decontextualized verbal units as generative devices to produce passages of great beauty, but constantly questions the cultural politics that romanticize the affective disjunction brought about by disenfranchisement, ostracism, and poverty. An indispensable book.

-- K. Silem Mohammad