December 2011

Lightsey Darst

poetry

movable TYYPE by Kathleen Fraser

There's a book before me -- Kathleen Fraser's†movable TYYPE. It's bigger than your average volume of poetry, wide, like a good window to drink wine in. The dove gray cover feels suede or sharkskin -- soft, grabby, a surface your fingers go slower over. The extra Y in the title might have tumbled in from the typesetter's tray out of sheer enthusiasm, it might be dťcor (the two Ys wave at me like a windfarm), or it might be a question: why?

Inside, ink's laid down on creamy pages, sometimes smaller and nestled in precious lines that entreat out-loud reading:

whistle-stop nape of neck thistle

you can pillow-whisper at your copy, or

fluttery to her as a pamphlet or flock of blank ink

you can purr, or

this rescuing being a rendering-up of today's shed margin

you might murmur. Sometimes the print's so large it feels ancient, the ink so smoothly black you feel its lake-weight settle on your eye or skin as you scan:

(belovd,

Fraser writes thus largely, as if transcribing a relic, a lost strand of Sappho.

Whether large or small, words feel precious here, as if built up out of their component curves and tails (which, according to Fraser's notes, they sometimes are). The projects that make up this book vary in their driving rules and urges, but common meaning and clear communication never figure high. What to make of

Baze chord windo

††skwyw rd

These more†resemble†words than†are; their suggestive opennesses (baize? blaze? base? skyward? sky word? skew word?), instead of cohering at some central node, fall this way and that like petals of a late flower.

The inclusions and omissions of

brning bittr hrshly

may come about because (as the notes reveal) Fraser is reordering and using up every last letter from some previous project, but with this inner compulsion invisible on the page, the phrase reads as driven by pure caprice of taste. Why "bittr" and not "bttr"? Because the dot beguiles the eye, maybe. Everywhere, Fraser arranges her treasures as if gems on black velvet; she has time, light, space.

Whether†movable TYYPE†always answers the question of the title's extra Y satisfactorily depends on how one feels about these luxuries. I confess to not always being able to like this book. Sitting on the bus bundled against another Minnesota winter, I don't find the collaged phrase "It's the low bumps / song have after // words have" enough to make me warm; tired and busy, I'm bothered at having to read an entire page of "ile flottante flotilla few & flicker" repeated and arranged differently. I confess to being even annoyed; beside Fraser's admission that content for one project was "randomly chosen," I find I've scraped in a "?!"

But I credit this response largely to my own fluctuating mood. It's true that some projects here connect and resonate more than others ("2oth Century" and "hi dde violeth i dde violet" especially repay eyeing; S E C O N D LANGUAGE is more than usually elliptical), but more than that, I notice how in one mood I dote on a page that in another I pass coldly over. I can't read Fraser always, anywhere. I must be indulgent to take the†life†in "proliferate," to find "pamplemousse" prize enough to take away from a page of words in various languages. Not only that: when I'm in this mood Fraser marks it for me; her text is a barometer of my ability to clear the day from my eyes. I will not always love to see

BUT THAT SPARKY BIRD KEEPS SHEDDING MUSIC

in outline caps and strewn across two pages, but when I do, I know I'm in a sweet spot: "you, in unmeasured depth still sleeping," as Fraser has it in one of many phrases that seem to describe the desired condition of her reader. In this condition, what freedom opens. I feel no obligation to her intent or to my own of a minute ago; I don't fuss with the anxiety of what I†should†do; I take and pick and finger, I stretch my lazy arm towards what I like. When Fraser writes,

method: remarking how

in memory the physical world

is not ours

I take it to mean that the page is a magic zone in which the physical (whether letters or memories) becomes something else -- electrical impulse caroming through inner-space and lighting up new patterns like a pinball machine.

For a poet, how strange that this ready state should be rare. But we're instructed these days to pare our work to a glistening thing that must be at once skin and marrow, which must entertain yet contain a mystical wholeness, must tease with surface ambiguity but at some not-very-deep level know something in particular, something sure. Fraser, though, unclusters meaning, as if fast-forwarding through constellations. In her ruleless and multiplying reading, there simply is no tight underlying system such as our economic age encourages us to seek. Instead, Fraser gives us "muzzlels" -- the wonder of an extra letter wriggling into the middle of a familiar word and making it alien, otherwise. She remains

resistant to a fact that can
refuse fumbling,
uninterested in anything that hinders flight.

The battles Fraser used to fight (against the exclusion of women writers from the modernist canon, against the notion that only "unmasked" writing might aid the feminist cause) may be underwater now (I won't say over), but her writing still acts as corrective against the current.

movable TYYPE†by Kathleen Fraser
Nightboat
ISBN: 978-0984459889
180 pages