August 7, 2008

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Quaker Guns, by Caroline Knox, Wave Books, 2008, 65 pages)
By Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

Modernism, or New Formalism if you prefer, is the style of the day with two new books by wildly diverse authors, with equally diverse results. First up, Wave Books returns with yet another bewildering collection of poems. This time it’s Massachusetts writer Caroline Knox whose turn it is to push the definition of poetry well beyond its breaking point. Honestly, and I don’t remember ever saying this before, I have no clue what the heck this book is about.

It’s as though Knox cut words out of a dictionary, threw the papers into the air and assembled them on page — 35 times.

On one hand, I respect Wave for encouraging cutting-edge poets to explore outside the traditional box. On the other, Knox’s poems are just bursts of linguistic masturbation, words layered on other words with no heed to tone, rhythm or even basic sense in some cases. One “poem” is a recipe. Another, the title poem, I think compares a failing relationship to the impotence of Quaker Guns, but with lines like “Your handsome workmanlike fourmaster” who can be sure?

Then Knox indulges in not one, but two, Erasure poems, the most insidious and laziest new poetry form. Basically, in an Erasure poem, the author removes words from an already existing text to create a poem out of the remaining words. For example, Knox’s poem “Erasure Erasure” is just a series of words picked out of the OED entry for the word erasure. She even includes the full OED entry on the opposite page. Let’s try it — I’ll bold face the words that will become the poem. You can eliminate the rest. Like Fort Knox, the good writer is able to carefully guard a reader from preposterous self-indulgence which leads to bad choices the poet will regret. DDan Szczesny