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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Skip Fox's _ For To _, reviewed by Megan Burns

Skip Fox
For To
ISBN 1934289728
BlazeVOX [books], 2008

Reviewed by Megan Burns

Skip Fox’s newest book For To is nearly three hundred pages of various and intricate poems detailing the poet’s search for quantitative answers in what is understandably an oroboric quest. In fact, the image of the oroboros arises several times throughout the book, less a symbol and more a totem animal—a conundrum in form that parallels the poet’s wrestling with language. In his search for “straight answers,” Fox asks the hard questions and seldom lets up in his relentless gaze. His verse focuses on the smallest and most obscure human details, the odder the better. Fox is especially enamored with the absurd; language is paraded out to perform acrobatic acts of saying all and then some. The poet muses on the mouth of his sock as much as he does on the delicate rays of dawn punctured by the groans of bullfrogs on a southern Louisiana morning.

Fox tells us early on: “Even the boy raised by wolves had a language” (15). He wavers between presenting language as quintessential to the human condition and also limiting and laughable in its design. In witty aphorisms and slingshot asides, Fox pokes fun at us, the users of language, who think we know what we’re talking about when we do talk. “Reason is one thing that happens,” (61) he quips. Mathematical precision as a trope recurs throughout his examination into the accuracy of words. Fox’s poems read like math problems found in the school of ultimate knowledge. If we could solve them, the kingdom of bliss could be ours they seem to proffer. Take “30-31 Curriculum for the New Millennium: Basic Oblivion” that asks:
What is the nominal ‘distance’ between what you think you should feel and what you do feel, and all the supple calibrations gliding across your skin, touching with their tiny bare feet all the tender deposits of lives, the kinds of families, relations you may have had, and those you didn’t.
These questions have the ability to send the reader into paroxysms of doubt questioning all they thought they knew or more accurately all they never thought about at all.

Fox brings to the surface those items often overlooked; “very delicate, a word,” (36) he tells us as he celebrates the magic in the obscure. He manages to tilt our eyes downward and inward uncovering the invisible chemical reactions that make up our existence and laying them out in figurative language often reserved for fiery sunsets and lover’s laments. Fox describes the predicament of being human in all its flawed and messy compartments. All the while he is cognizant of the fallible tools in his toolbox: “all measure is metaphor” (52). In the same vein that a mathematical equation seeks solutions, these poems also seem to be searching for answers. In truth, Fox reveals, the search itself is the process and the pleasure: “I’d not miss it for the world” (127).

Form is a net that Fox refuses to be caught within; his poems throughout the book range from concrete poems to prose poems to lists and pages of notes and footnoted texts. At his most sublime and romantic, Fox muses:
insects passing my ears, cars
on the curve, rusty hinge
of bird in the field, cricket
frogs again,…once they
opened a door and I
walked in. It
seemed simple. (150)
These tranquil reflections are interspersed with wild “Sure Shots” as Fox calls them, a random recording of thoughts and witticisms such as: “Actually you can catch more flies with a corpse. (Sticka for the Godz!)” (199) or the flippant multi- choice option: “Eat what you fuck. Sticka for a. cannibals, b. cattle ranchers, c. post-feminists, d. ADM” (200). There is even the occasional Zen koan: “Zero is nothing realized, nothing beheld, not even absence, requires no article.” (199). It’s hard to pin down where Fox’s leanings are poetically, when he is constantly pushing the subject on what poems can say or how they should even look like while they are saying it. In “Forty Titles,” Fox will serve up the titles for poems that should probably never be written while a few pages later, he begins a concrete poem almost shaped like a heart with, “That little fuck, what was his name?” (217). Fox has the ability to unhinge the reader’s steadiness by vacillating between lyrical verses that lean towards the more familiar use of images and allusions to explicitly raw and hysterically funny lines that you won’t find in the pages of the New Yorker in any near future.

Occasionally, Fox manages that oldest of poetic tricks, to sum it all up in a line so poignant that all other lines seem superfluous as in the poem “Monday Nights: Ode to Mom”:
This should be titled “Miles to Go” with a trumpet solo that would blow into your notions of existence such ripe conception that you might live it again, all over from the beginning, as they say, only this time without the hardship.
The reader can see the nostalgic snowy paths of the past sounded out as a long horn solo calling us all to a place we will never venture again, except for here in the poem. Maybe that is the answer to the puzzling title of Fox’s book; whoever it is “for” and whoever it is “to,” they will know when they enter into the exchange with this poet that promises never to offer the expected.

Fox is not afraid to let his poems laugh or even laugh at him, and they reward him by revealing a lexicon that measures out our own careless joys from childhood. In lessons long forgotten, we see here again how playful language is and how mindful it can be of our own precarious conditions. Fox takes both the serious and the futile, compressing time into moments caught in his various forms for getting the words down. Far from simply playing with language like a toy, Fox confronts the reader with the open-ended question that rejects the neat closure in exchange for the messiness of life.

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Megan Burns has a MFA from Naropa University and edits the poetry magazine, Solid Quarter. She has been most recently published in Callaloo, Constance Magazine, and YAWP Journal as well as online at horseless press, shampoo, trope_5, Exquisite Corpse and BigCityLit. Her book Memorial + Sight Lines was published in 2008 by Lavender Ink. She lives in New Orleans where she and her husband, poet Dave Brinks, run the weekly 17 Poets! reading series.