A Life's Work: Sheer Indefinite by Skip Fox

Patrick James Dunagan

Caught mired down, as it were, in some Louisiana bog with the nutria rats of such waterways, amongst the wankers and assorted riff raffs of literary professor-poets, Skip Fox has been writing poems of a stable luminosity of which The Poets do dig. Let it be said, his work is well above par; never to be found about to back down from looking a glum wit or kilobyte trawling neophyte in the eye and calling out the kooks in the literary (& literal) machinery of the imagination.


Fox is never boring. He is always pushing the language of the poem to yield to the point of bursting; he’s never easing off as so many others do to lazily spit out fine muffins from off his haunches. Firmly refusing to participate in the charade of undeserved kickbacks and easy slings of rehashed gimmick, Fox is nothing less than all in.

So much is given. He who says otherwise belies the
human, reveals his life for the shabby dissemblance
it is, the glint in his eyes all abdication all the time, 24-
7, until he thought this is what he’d read about and
dreamed about, adult existence, sadly toxic, a quiet
dance in the enervating drift we know as contemporary
culture, life, what do I care?, but never the measure, thumb
as jewel in hand, something for the pen or brush or wand
instead of a neck. Something for the hammer and dick for
Christ’s sake!

(“‘So little’s given us, why pity less’”)
    
Fox reads his life into his poems. This is a daily affair of balancing the inner and outer. An infinite flexing of those drifts of various lights shimmering into a pool which swallows as much as reflects: Narcissus with a touch of Kore (sending back her signals from both above and below).

Neither does the world answer but
        in mute response. Cold
            wind this morning before
                 dawn, cold
            rock in its eye,
                              frozen
              dream in its mind.

This is from a poem titled “sic transit”—one of several of the same title included here. These breezy markers of reoccurrence give a slight whimsy brokered through its scattering lines spread across the page expressing a moment’s hesitation before the onslaught of another day’s beginning. Fox utilizes this serial approach often in his more recent books, spreading throughout each a few poems which usually share a title, form, movement of line, and/or tone, allowing for the spreading of ongoing concerns beyond the single book, such that no single collection is ever final, or complete.    

Sheer Indefinite vividly graphs out this tendency of Fox’s, making it clear that his writing of poetry for the last twenty years has been a clear engagement of a whole: one infinitely projected “book” consistently engaging with reoccurring motifs. Take the closing lines of “The Boat” from the selection of his first book excerpted here Kabul Under Siege.

                                                  One ear
on the oarlock, one on the breeze, bitter
as a benediction, we stare into night’s
socket, searching for the black scroll
of the opposite shore. Birds fall
through thick air; mosquitoes drip
into silence. We lean over the side, reach
a hand in . . . and draw a blank, a headache
without the pain. We pull it back, dry,
as though it had never been.

Fox is fully committed. This is a life-long affair that he didn’t rush into and that he’s not rushing out of. He is cast afloat and aflutter and is ever in the midst of circling through the living matter of his days. His vivid refusal to have it be otherwise is admirable. He’s taken a dead-end mess of life affairs and turned such cul-de-sac bathos into this cannon with which he hurls poem-assaults sure to plunge the random lucky few who get struck by his projectiles into a life’s abyss of reading. Like, “Hey bro, what’s the deal with this guy?” Forget about it. How much realer does the Real get?

embedded with verb       verb infested with noun,              and yet we seek
a presence   within that manifestation        streets of the world         neither
darkened aspect           nor pearly spouse               but of its own insistence
transparent to itself     answer to its only question         absolute          pure
appearance, man who drowned in the object         writing the Days of Life
Form,          the mighty Mississip           flowing backward       into the rift
 of New Madrid, or he who, lost in self’s roar, gives testament of nearby
  falls, or maybe eyes like my father’s      look into the other room,  with
   neither hope nor despair      nil admirari       as though the zodiac were
    woven into our bodies    rather than this failure             rising from mis-
     conception,     not accidental,    not unsubstantial,        an increasingly
      hardened forgetfulness of being “constrained”      to the narrative, to
       play it out       we, who never signed a contract      though we would
        have gladly and            perhaps, with some revision          would do
            so again  (but this time put ourselves        at least in some way of
         understanding,   have now come to an end           the first?    (what
          have we forgotten?     Has forgotten us         dealt us last      in our
           passing?            That we would listen,       the ear is also mute   as
            the idea of sound             clouds       meteors        the sky itself is,
             as we are,      porous    permeated             (have you not seen the
              light beneath the darkness?    We rest the oars, lean out as over
               a prow     (or is it behind us?    Into what we know not,     still
                our breathing,                 douse a cigarette       and listen     to
                 silence      indigenous absence as though    a breath beneath
                  calling   sent florets of flame   though a membrane     still
                   we listen  in anticipation  that is we are still listening

(“from ‘Scroll: Stars, Clouds, Earth’”)

And here in the title of the above work Fox notes that this poem is itself “from” a longer—safe to assume—ongoing, perhaps even ever-to-be-incomplete work. This “selected poems” is comprised of works from out works, themselves comprised of selections from out works. The works are thus always ongoing. Fox may be getting a chunk of something as he’s writing and understand that it has the potential for more in front of it, or perhaps more might be coming at the end, yet already he has a title, so he sticks a “from” on the front of the title and drops it into the current book at hand he’s working on.

Fox’s work is an endless weaving and re-weaving of one’s writing and reading with living: a life practice, if you will. Like with the aforementioned poem-series, the “sic transit” pieces in the later books, there are a slew of poems as well that are sonnet-like—at least they’re all at or about fourteen lines in length, blocks of short and often longer-lines of text, enfolded.

the country I come from

cast of broken teeth on an endless plain river
ditch road bank trail wood corn & asphalt mansions
of a million rooms in each upending shard ice wall re-
freezing in the contending floe after storm rooms
like caverns of skulls over limb-littered plains after battles
lost like the bones of ice grew eyes and we its mind all
along the Maumee where it rained and froze the branches
snapped swamp roots pricked from muck where great
snappers and quarries of small mouth carp and maybe
Jimmy Hoffa caught deep in their waters preserving what
is best left forgotten like a life without any reason other
than the maintenance of self-insistence in a land where
water-towers mutely grope the sky a vein-blue haze in
every distance due to the slow decomposition of time

This is from Fox’s latest work included here, Stormy Mondays, yet his habits towards the sonnet-like form is evident within his earlier collection, Wallet, where the text of the poems add up to thirteen lines, but if you count the title as a line, they add up to fourteen. Fox, anyway, pushes the oratorical and poetic reasoning of his lines to the max. As here he introduces the goo into which his poems seek step.
   
Even the least story begins nowhere, in the webbing of

what cannot be touched, by definition. Between the transmitter
and Spicer’s radio. Deep space. “The primitive does not
exist” (Todorov). Before beyond. What’s beneath
the word. The world we say. Names of the gods beneath
the week. Beneath numbers, what? “No narrative
is natural (beneath time), a discourse, not a series
of events.” I hear with my words, not really
mine. How strange and true. As into a widening
gap, metaphor and the basis of metaphor, a and ox, “a sense
of proportion plugged into an unmeasurable, “in-
cantation, faith or spell, “the transformation concepts
undergo before magical discourse is possible,”
the first concept before there was a concept.

A colossus of a grasp at an endeavor that’s rather appropriately headed nowhere in particular, Fox’s work is a life’s work, is the life work. It is a following through on the injunction given in Robert Duncan’s statement Fox uses as epigraph to this Selected, “we obey the orders that appear in our work.” This isn’t a priority of picking up on skill so much as it is tune. The Poet must hear what is read. In the end, it comes to a well measured living. Between the writing and the reading, arrives the composition of the whole.

Sheer Indefinite
By Skip Fox
UNO Press 2012
Isbn-13: 978-1608010806 

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