Alice Fulton - Poetics


Fulton's "fingerprint-distinct voice" is immediately recognizable for its poetic ambition laced with humor and shifting poetic diction. While sharing an interest in scientific metaphors and diction with her mentor, A.R. Ammons, she differs from Ammons through her engagement with injustice and cruelty. In a statement accompanying her selection of Lisa F. Jackson's film, The Greatest Silence, for the 2008 "Revolution" writers conference and film festival at University of North Dakota, Fulton had this to say about her poetics:

"As a poet and writer, I'm committed to undermining postures of arrogance and entitlement, the context of 'impunity' . Silence — especially enforced silence – has been one of my deep subjects, as has resistance, a quality as important to poetics as to revolutions. I've tried to engage with the background rather than the figure, to find new linguistic ways of confronting disenfranchisement, cruelty, and suffering, while retaining the uncanny qualities of poetry. I've tried to be a student of inconvenient knowledge — the sort of knowledge that, when taken to heart, forces us to change our lives in revolutionary ways."

Sacred, religious, spiritual, compassionate, and ethical themes are incorporated in her work. Miller has noted that "faith" is an "issue that comes up in all of volumes and in poem after poem," as have Marchant and others. Peter Brier asserts that "Fulton conveys much of the ecstasy that is associated with the strongest religious poets, poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins" with similarities in phrasing, imagery, and sprung rhythm. Camille Paglia also finds "heavy sprung rhythms ... reminiscent of the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins" and that Fulton's "ecstatic techniques" are deployed "for far earthier and more carnal purposes."

"Like the Language poets, Fulton is interested in linguistic play and artifice, and also in critical theory and philosophy, although the theories most evident in her poetry and essays are those of science and mathematics." "From the first," Fulton "has been as theoretically astute as the Language poets" as well as being interested in a poetry that will "discomfit readers and unsettle their expectations, a poetry of inconvenient knowledge," a phrase originally used in Fulton's 1997 essay.

Fulton first proposed her ideas for a new poetics based on the concepts of fractals and emergent patterns in her 1986 essay, "Of Formal, Free, and Fractal Verse: Singing the Body Eclectic," in which she uses the term "fractal" to suggest "a way to think about the hidden structures of free verse." Tigerlily states that Fulton “coined the phrase ‘fractal poetry’ as a method of revisioning the value of both formal and free verse, calling the ‘poetry of irregular form fractal verse.’” Some critics have taken Fulton to task for an inexact usage of "fractal." Other critics have countered that her use of "fractal" is more metaphorical than literal. Susan Duhig in the Chicago Tribune noted that "For Fulton, the fractal serves as a potent metaphor for a poetry with a form that exists somewhere between utter shapelessness and the Euclidean order of regular meter and genre, a poetry whose volatile, irregular patterning exists on the threshold of structure." Duhig concluded that Fulton's essays explicate "one possible language for understanding poetry in the age of quantum mechanics." Biogeneticist Ana Marti-Subirana writes at length and with specificity on how "Chaos theory and fractal poetics allow Fulton to analyze the complexity of social structures and cultural constructions through new perspectives in poetic form." Fulton's fractal poetics operates "as a means to engage both the poet and the reader of poetry into an intellectual immersion beyond the obvious."

Fulton elaborated on her conceptualization of fractal verse in her 1996 essay, "Fractal Amplifications: Writing in Three Dimensions," in which she posits a "poem plane," a concept analogous to the picture plane in painting. She suggests that "By juxtaposing transparent with textured passages, fractal poetry constructs a linguistic screen that alternately dissolves and clouds." This later fractal essay shows evidence of her conversations with Holland on the subject of complexity. Fulton has stated that John H. Holland's work in complexity theory "greatly affected my poetics in the nineties." A full description of Fractal Verse is beyond the scope of this article; both of the seminal essays are reprinted in Fulton’s prose collection. A third essay titled “Fractal Poetics: Adaptation and Complexity” was published in 2005 in Interdisciplinary Science Review (UK) with this summary:

In the 1980s, American poets argued over the validity of free verse. One vocal faction claimed that vers libre was formless and lacking in the devices of poetry. In this context I elaborated a poetics I called 'fractal poetry'. Over the last twenty years this poetics has evolved through engagement with complexity studies that provide ways of understanding irregular, chaotic or turbulent systems. The writings of John H. Holland offer examples of open, exploratory and inclusive complex adaptive systems that lack a centre, hierarchy or equilibrium. These dynamic examples may be analogous to a sublime poetry with an ongoing plurality of optimum states located among a multiplicity of textures and gestures. This departure from the traditional 'transcendent lyric ultimate' suggests a maximalist approach giving equal weight to figure and ground, form and content. Physicist Karen Barad's conceptualisation of 'agential realism' provides added dimension to fractal poetics by offering a model for locating meaning in the space between traditional dualisms.

Barbara Fischer's analysis of Fulton's ekphrastic poem "Close" in Felt explains this maximalist approach:

Fulton's mixture of media is edgy and experimental — "This is not an illustration." She stands close enough to her subjects to see that art, visual or verbal, is adulterated by evidence of the processes that have made it. The museum-goer notes that "In person, looked a little dirty. / I could see the artist's hairs / in the pigment—traces of her / head or dog or brush." She sees "gooey gobs of / process painted in," and notes Mitchell's knifework, which has "left some gesso showing through, / a home for lessness that— / ... / is a form of excess." This paradoxical excess of absence describes a characteristic feature in Fulton's work, here and in earlier books — a lavish and roiling expenditure of imagery and wordplay that draws attention to the means by which any representational illusion of plenitude is sustained. Critics have emphasized the "excesses" of Fulton's vivacious artifice, digressiveness, and heterogeneous diction (I would agree with those who do not consider such "excess" pejorative), and Felt... powerfully investigates the emotional stakes of this "form of excess" as a poetics.

Reviewing Powers Of Congress in 1991, Eavan Boland was the first to liken Fulton to Emily Dickinson. With the 1995 publication of Sensual Math, Publishers Weekly suggested “ may be Dickinson’s postmodern heir.” Critic and Dickinson scholar Cristanne Miller further expounded on similarities between Dickinson and Fulton: "Like Dickinson, Fulton crosses the boundaries of popular and highly experimental genres of poetry writing.... Even in long poems and sequences of poems, Fulton's verse has the tight constructedness and multiple layered qualities of Dickinson's poetry.... Fulton shares Dickinson's outrageous sense of play with both cultural icons and aspects of English normally taken for granted." Miller also has pointed to Fulton's kinship with Dickinson in the use of end-of-line syntactic doubling, and was the first critic to note similarities in punctuation.

"Where Dickinson makes the dash key to the rhythms and expression of her poetry, Fulton introduces a new sign of punctuation that she calls 'a bride / after the recessive threads in lace' . This double-equal sign, which 'might mean immersion,' is 'the unconsidered // mortar' between bricks; it makes 'visible the acoustic signals / of things about to flame,' 'hinging one phrase to the next,' throwing the reader into the same kind of adventurous uncertainty as Dickinson's dash."

Miller goes on to say, "For both poets, this interest in hinges, in connections, in incongruities and contiguities reveals itself in verbal and syntactical structures as well as in themes. In short, while these are poets of big ideas, they also are very much poets of language.... Like Dickinson, Fulton makes us see the pomposity, ridiculousness, and fragility of our beliefs, hopes, and attitudes as well as the sometimes terrible wonder of human interaction and the universe beyond ourselves." In addition to Dickinson’s influence, Mark Jarman and Cristanne Miller have noted the influence of Marianne Moore. Rita Dove has written that "Nabokov is one of Alice Fulton's literary mentors: The sheer delight in language's subterfuges, the knotty avenues of recollections and desire, the human need for 'significance' that forms narratives even where there are none — these themes are the very bone and gristle of Fulton's prodigal, energetic poetry."

Read more about this topic:  Alice Fulton

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