Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, June 29, 2009

Jennifer Moxley, _Imagination Verses_

HER FIRST BOOK, from 1996, written over the period 1990-95, as she notes in a preface. Already quite assured, though, I would say -- not much of the fumblings and stumblings of apprenticeship here, so far as I can detect. A rich, substantial, startling book.

The preface also notes the poems are written in "a variety of different free verse forms," and so they are, but here as in later work I keep feeling the iambic undertow, especially in the latter part of the volume. There is a pentameter beat deep in her music, produced perhaps by the same intimate acquaintance with the tradition that produced the two sonnets she calls "Duets," one a distillation of Wordsworth, the other of Keats.

One always heard it Pound, too, which is (I think) why his free verse felt liberated rather than sprawling. Moxley's "After First Figure" called Pound to mind for me, specifically "The Return," in which, as Hugh Kenner noted, no two lines are metrically alike, yet the rhythm of the whole is as balanced and complete as a Calder mobile. "The Return" was also a sort of poetic manifesto, announcing a modern vision of the classical, and "After First Figure" too seems to announce basic principles:

And as with imagination
there is no choice
being thought bound
the separate mind stands out, as matter
and maintains dreamily:
"I have been over to the words and they work."

Now, as to why the imagination is paraphrasing Lincoln Steffens, I can't say, but what a Moxleyan moment it is.

Also worth noting, the exploration of gender, sexuality, and power in "The Removal of Enlightenment Safeguards" and "The Ballad of Her rePossession." Rather fashionable topics for the first half of the 1990s, true, but how many of us can say our reflections on gender, sexuality,and power from the first half of the 1990s still sound interesting today? Not many of us...but Moxley's are.

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