The Messiness of Life
Skip Fox's For To (Blazevox, 2008)
Skip Fox has published several volumes of poetry, most recently For To (Blazevox), What Of (Potes & Poets) and Adventures of Max and Maxine (Auguste). His work is included in Another South: Experimental Writing in the South (U of Alabama). He has been published by such little magazines as Hambone, o.blek, Talisman, Exquisite Corpse, and YAWP: a Journal of Poetry & Art. He (as Willard Fox) has published a secondary bibliography: Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan: A Reference Guide (G. K. Hall, 1989), which was the culmination of six years' work. Fox began teaching poetry at The University of Louisiana in Lafayette, LA. Before then his job-life included work in factories, warehouses, national forests, and mental hospitals.
Review 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 ouroboric quest. In fact, the image of the ouroboros 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" (19). 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). 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 by language's net. 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.
Megan Burns holds an MFA from Naropa University and edits the poetry magazine, Solid Quarter (solidquarter.blogspot.com). She has been most recently published in Callaloo, Constance Magazine, and YAWP: a Journal of Poetry & Art 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 (www.17poets.com).