Review of What Of. Skip Fox. Elmwood CT: Potes and Poets, 2002.

Patrick James Dunagan

"Where Anything can Happen"

Coming to the act of writing as conscious unconscious activity, Skip Fox's What Of holds forth in the tradition of Stein and Williams with fluid experimental passages that hang on the page in a successful bopping between prose and poetry. Fox isn't interested in working out perfectly structured verse or valiantly struggling to sculpt each of his sentences into crystalline splendor. Alongside the pleasure and beauty to be found is also the grotesque and absurd. Part imaginative diary and part working notes, Fox holds to his various sense impressions of what's happening around and within his immediate physical and mental space on a daily basis. There's no holding back, no expectation of what's to come, or be benefited from. He lets the language flow through him with whatever cultural demons may tag along for the ride. The interest is in achieving not a state of reflection but rather of engagement, to be active in the moment of writing, no looking back.

48. The only way to get there when you can't get there from here: realize where
you are. The body.
In a sense, this is Fox's own Day Book. The reader is greeted by a series of chronologically numbered entries some with titles attached, although some numbers are skipped, such that the first entry is "2." and there is no "24.," while others are run together, one heading reads "622-39. Election Day," and another, "874-78, 883-84." It's unclear whether a full day's worth, or more, of time has elapsed from entry to entry, but a sense of sequenced order is evident. Clear precursors to Fox's project include: Creeley, Dorn, Duncan, and Bernadette Mayer along with work of various contemporaries such as Thomas Bridwell's Notes from the Cistern. With Fox's book you get a little of everything, from acerbic cutting wit to serene flashes of lyric shine. Sometimes one entry will have a bit of both.


A little damn
at least that
for anyone
who would impede
this act,
a little blessing
for those
who pass on

Fox isn't interested in any sort of acclaim. He's much too preoccupied with the writing to give a damn. It's a refreshing side of his work. Obviously, he's picked up some traits from Dorn's thick-hide piercing tongue, but Fox doesn't wade into political/social battles with the same intensity as Dorn. If he has a battle it's of a personal nature. He's intent on finding out what his insides have to say, and let it be said.

526. Echolalia of Worlds within Words
I just thought of something very anti-Semitic, purely by accident, understand (not that there's
anything wrong with it). And is it even a debate of whether or not to write it down, and if so what kind
of a debate is it, such a moment showing you can write about, or is it of your ability to affect the world
(simple extrapolation of the Principle of Distension, that is, I am that which I displace), and a small
festering barb in the frontal lobe of the culture will have to do some mornings when there's nothing else
going on. Or of my "Jewish friends," as they say, and how they might take it and therefore me, perhaps of
a Christopher Ricks of the 21st century pawing me ineptly between the legs. Or of a debate joke you can
always delay the punchline because punchlines are not of the imagination rather a prayer or battering ram
to the heart. It could be part of the argument that anything is a fit occasion for the poem and there are
an infinite number of melodic lines in any occasion and an infinite number of melodic lines within each
line, and the numbers are unordinally even uneven prime, as though orgasm fed orgasm, unto*

*Of sometimes here meaning concern. (Stein)

This is straight from the thoughts of the man Skip Fox as he sits and writes it, a transcription of his mental processes with nothing hidden and nothing to hide behind.

In addition to the poet in Skip Fox, there's also a bit of the scholar. Several entries show a life among books and teaching college courses on the poets he cares for. There's a healthy contingent of folks who remain interested in the bountiful zest of Charles Olson's work and Fox is happily among them. These are the readers who are also practitioners and live with Olson's works the way you wake up in your own home and water your plants on Sundays. His investment is a fact of life.

376. Why One Is Not a Number

All my life I've heard
one makes many

Olson overheard the witty cook's complaint (Cornelia Williams), or was it a statement
of different substance,how one egg, in a batter might, make… what?
(Did they eat roadkill at BMC?) "this bright Cornelia," writes Creeley, "and it
sounded / like the epigraph fit to go with the / Figure / Or to be / IT! (Christ,
exactly, that's it . . ." (Butterick's Guide, 4), and although "so few / have the polis
/ in their eye" (Max I.28), "so few need to, / to make the many / share (to have
it, / too)" (Max I.29). "that there is no such thing as duality either of the body
and the soul or of the world and I, that the fact in the human universe is the
discharge of the many (the multiple) by the one (yrself done right, whatever you
are, in whatever job, is the thing" (Guide 4).

he built a castle
at Norman's Woe
(Max II.7)

Not the reef of Longfellow's grief (Guide 250).

A montage of quotation, this entry has bits of Olson's The Maximus Poems along with George Butterick's Guide To The Maximus Poems, merging them into the one work which, especially for those confronting The Maximus Poems via Butterick's posthumous editing of Olson's final installment, they inevitably are. Fox demonstrates how practical and useful the reading of Olson is. If the reader digs what Fox accomplishes here, they should be reading Olson if they aren't already, this is how the poems are meant to work. What Of announces the start of Fox's personal epic of sorts. A second volume, At That, has since followed and similar threads run throughout. Similar to how Duncan interspersed his sequences Passages and Structures of Rime throughout his later collections of poetry, Fox has his Sure Shots, again reminiscent of Dorn by way of tone, and Letters of Endearment, addresses to friends and contemporaries, which make haphazard appearances throughout both collections. There has also been at least one "story" grown from out of them, a heavily ironic sequence of poems detailing the love between two apes in a zoo named Max and Maxine, which has been published as its own separate chapbook, Adventures of Max & Maxine (Auguste Press). Fox puts everything on the line and in the line. There's a bit of something for every reader to delight in and/or run away from. Lastly, there is the testament of a mind on fire, ripping its way through books and through yard or swamp, grabbing about and putting the everyday details of a life to use in the work of the poem. It's a highly admirable achievement for any lover of poetry and quick wit.

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