Objects for a Fog Death by Julie Doxsee
Julie Doxsee’s Objects for a Fog Death can be seen as the intensive attempt to evoke barely-rendered emotions into words -- even to invent new feelings outright. A book such as this demands, overtly, a certain kind of reader, and of course many will find poetry such as this impenetrable, evasive. Of course, one needn’t necessarily come to poetry with needs at all, but consideration of poems that have proven themselves to stand the test of time (disregarding here arguments over “the canon” and its imperialism, etc.) generally point toward a poem that speaks to the deepest of human experience -- the experiences we all share regardless of epoch and place. Doxsee leans into this effort, and there comes of it this music (from “A Bit of Couch”):
The ides of September
ghosted me until I flew
back from my house
on an origami swan you
left on my knee when I
Undeniably beautiful in its richness of sound. And what it means is intimately intertwined with its evocation of pure emotion. Someone like Georg Trakl comes to mind, or much-in-vogue Paul Celan: of course, there is a substantial difference between the current American surrealist and their European counterparts, and it is one of circumstance. Trakl and Celan both evoke a darkness, as of war-torn Europe, its anxiety, its despair. America, it would seem, has no such anxiety -- or at least not to such a ravaged degree, not on a massive scale. What many lament we have -- and this is only one opinion -- is a poetry of the self, of personal anxieties. One could argue that the isolation of such feeling limits the intimacy with the reader; but perhaps this is not the point.
There is common ground in the universality of the mythic, though Doxsee’s poems evoke a personal mythos, as evidenced through a repetition of images: numbers, maps, magnets, sphinxes (Shelley? Yeats? Auden?), and wings. This makes it a poetry of creation, at the very least. Take “Poem,” for instance, which seeks a definition for both poetry and the self: “Within its paper are jagged // dreams accordioning from / objects seen only for how they make // eyes.” This resolves into the speaker seeing no choice but to “sew myself up latitudinal, flip over / the page to scar what’s underneath.” The poem is still defiantly lyrical, with the poem maintaining its traditional evocation of self for longevity, as evidenced by the gesture of writing.
“Invisible Sonnet” brings forth fluid images: “Thorns / flower from stones.” It invites you to “Sing // what writes you” and “Eat what sees you / even if it’s the rapture // of the spirit.” The reader is ultimately invited in, though occasionally abandoned to drift toward whatever they may bring forth from the sensibility of the poem. The poet, in fact, acknowledges this difficulty in “At First a Kind of Steering”: “I wrote / a song… ears can’t swallow.” It ends with a vague image involving “rabbits melting / minor spoonfuls” and “dognoise,” and one finds themselves asking if this is true: is it a problem that the reader cannot simply swallow the poem?
Objects for a Fog Death is a conceptual book, a series that evolves toward a unified poem, a singular tone elaborated upon and improvised to the underlying rhythm. Meaning no poem in particular stands out as singular; rather, Doxsee’s poems revel in their fragmentary nature: they are a part of something larger, but in and of themselves seem to hover at the edge of a fog. Williams’s equation of poems and dream analysis may prove useful here; likewise, Louise Glück’s admission to her recognition of where in her poems she is being evasive.
Then “Dear Rabbit Costume” may reveal itself as apocalyptic, the revelation of -- if not pure Gnosticism -- at least an individual psychology. And parts of that poem are quite lucid: “What saddens me most is that // until today I have not considered / how closely related I am to straw // that has met its share of hooves”. This, I will argue, transcends the mere analysis of how interesting the language in and instead rises to a mutuality of feeling; that is, we’ve felt this; the image works as rendering new something profoundly ordinary. Though Joshua Marie Wilkinson said in a recent interview he distrusts poetry speaking as “the common man,” it is absurd to focus entirely on “individual perception” as unique in lieu of the universality of what makes us most communal: our suffering of the human condition, for good or for ill. I want to contend that the poetry that reaches after this fact, however languidly, is poetry that sticks.
Doxsee’s most interesting poems are the poems that try to define what a poem is. “What is the poem” asked Graham Foust, and Doxsee proceeds toward no less a definition that “Falsetto”:
To paint this
the color of
sail it oarless
over the rapids.
A wonderful definition, bridging the “common sense” and the directionless flux that a poet like Elizabeth Bishop so honored. Or the declaration of “Dear Drowning”: “we’ll wing these / into water songs.” Or “Skyholes that Made You Laugh”, where “I told the bullet / whir & the bullet // made a world.” Indeed, Doxsee certainly makes a world; her definition of that world, though, is “a picture of fog.” The reader must enter equipped with their own compass, map, and confidence.
Objects for a Fog Death by Julie Doxsee