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Formally Attributed Generic Feelings: Diana Hamilton’s Great Review of Rob Fitterman’s Borrowing of James Schuyler . . .

By Harriet Staff


Diana Hamilton reviews Rob Fitterman’s newest book, No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself. (Ugly Duckling Presse 2014) for Coldfront! This is a book the protagonist of which, as UDP tells us, is “subjectivity as a mediated construct—the steady steam of personal articulations that we have access to are personal articulations themselves already mediated via song lyrics, advertising, or even broadcasters.”

Hamilton arrives a most welcome point: “As others have noted, the main literary intervention here is the collage’s ability to maintain the simulation of its projected character, a preference for coherence over disjunction that can be seen in many contemporary books written via appropriative methods: rather than emphasizing the polyvocality of gathered found materials (or appropriating only a single material, where the effect of unity may be less surprising), it emphasizes style’s ability to keep these materials connected.”

To intensify this, Hamilton explains that Fitterman borrowed the form of the piece from James Schuyler’s The Morning of the Poem. “This has something to do with the sense of stylistic novelty: Fitterman makes it seem like the right time to borrow from Schuyler,” she writes.

This question—which prior forms make themselves newly available?—often seems, to me, like a good way to define the contemporary. By this, I mean that something about a form guarantees that its use will involve an acceptable level of divergence from an original. It is not simply a matter of quantities of time’s passing: right now, it would be stupid to copy Rimbaud’s attitude towards luxury, and marginally less stupid, but still questionable, to imitate, say, Pope’s diction, whereas it is a really good idea for this book—and perhaps others!—to “borrow its poetic form, loosely” from Schuyler.

At least two effects make this form work well for No Wait. The first is the result of the best part of Schuyler’s lines, the polysemy of constant enjambment, which makes the poem feel more directed towards a literary effect than merely “fascinated” with a certain set of found materials. At the same time, the regularity of this form prevents the descent to crafted cleverness that happens when poets look for the line wherever it seems best. This regularity also contributes to the seeming unity of the utterances themselves.

The second effect relates to the difference between Fitterman and Schuyler’s materials, although not in a way that relies on an actual reading of Schuyler. Reading No Wait, I often get the impression of a tension between the structure and its language, as the former maintains a certain alien quality; it seems as though it comes from somewhere else, and in encountering the language it shapes, is forced to grow (as the lines do) to accommodate this tension. In The Morning of the Poem, this form takes what look like first-person authorial feelings and, by regulating and juxtaposing them with strange images, seems to formally attribute them to the possibility of other speakers; the lines might become aphorisms attributable to the general public, even: “How easily I could be in love with you/who do not like to be touched.” Repurposed by Fitterman, the form does the opposite work: it takes what look like generic feelings, attributable to many writers or to the internet itself, and, by regulating them and juxtaposing them with each other, seems to formally attribute them to a writer, to this writer. . .

Read on at Coldfront.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, August 28th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.