Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Jennifer Moxley, _The Line_

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN volumes of poems and book-length poems grows ever more unchartable.  There are either 43 poems in the Jennifer Moxley's volume titled  _The Line_, or 43 sections in her long poem titled _The Line_, a distinction which perhaps matters only to the marketing department at the Post-Apollo Press, which one can scarcely imagine even having a marketing department.  So let's just say it's a good book.

The 43 poems are stylistically of a piece, all prose poems, all with the speaker situated in the intermediate stages between sleep and waking -- a feature I confess might well have eluded my notice had I not been alerted to it by the blurbs (from Alice Notley and Rosmarie Waldrop).  The "line" of the title may be a name for each morning's picking up of the thread of one's life that one released on going to sleep, though "line" suggests poetry, too, even though these poems are unlineated, and lines of descent, the continuation of the work of past poets in the that of the living.

Among the past poets invoked here is Rimbaud, whose "Jeunesse" furnishes the book's epigraph.  Rimbaud may have inspired the hints at synaesthesia ("Fingers the eyes' touch") or the dream-logic shape-shifting ("She was wearing a dress that looked like a book but actually was a baby"), and obviously the lending of attributes to the vowels ("Mimeology"), but The Line particularly resembles Une Saison en Enfer in sounding like a confession steeped in a poetics and suffused with a metaphysics.  "The End," "The Other Life," "The Vampire," and "The Pitiful Ego" seem to emerge out of some autobiographical matrix, but the poems seem less interested in whatever personal experiences birthed them than in the processes that turned the experiences into poems.

For this reason, Moxley seems even more akin to Laura Riding than she is to young master Arthur.  Riding writes of herself, but her experiences seem somehow in the middle distance rather than the foreground, and refracted through the prisms of philosophic and aesthetic speculation.  So with Moxley.  Fairly often ("The Cover-up," "The Local," "The Railing," "Old Systems of Enrollment") this occurs via an Ashberyan second-person-as-first-person ("Perhaps your reliance on inspiration accounts for your failing imagination") in which the poet seems to be writing poems based on observation of herself in the process of writing a poem.

Does it work?  Well, it did for me.  Couldn't put it down.  In that respect, certainly, you'd have to call the volume a long poem -- best read in one go.

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