David Wolf
[ previous ] [ next ] [ notes ] [ #11: winter 2007 ]
Review of On The Fly, by Amy King
(Flux de Bouche Press, 2005)


On The Fly: twenty-one poems by Amy King that startle and surprise with an associative lyric intensity that is simultaneously beautiful, rattling, erotic, fitfully reflective and musically rich. In “Tell the World What You Want Them To” she writes:

The truth is we’re all detectives finalizing
a statement on what’s true and increasingly bogus.

And if you are a detective in search of discernible, apprehensible, poetically contained complexity, give up the case. These are poems of highly concentrated, disjunctive imagery and thought. Indeed, as “Tell the World What You Want Them To” opens, linear expression is severed early:

Boys in backyards who play catch with their dads
all across the mid-Atlantic states tonight
know not what they do in the big scheme
or even bigger picture show. Some won’t ever
carry the chalice of close awareness. But
just in case, I need to find other nooks to send things
to and additional soldiers to guard retired secrets.

King's poems draw the reader through abrupt shifts and turns, a textual feel that in itself is nothing new in the long history of poetry, especially in this post-Language-poem era that has fully absorbed, sanctioned (and continues to reproduce) the radically disjunctive lyric/narrative text. Still, some incarnations are fresher than others, and King's poems evince a fine sense of music, remembrance and tessellated desire. Here are the opening two stanzas of “Mother Tattooed with Knife”:

That we see through this world is the snail within
a shell or the thin yolk smeared across a windshield

As if to begin means being in pain and also a remedy—
I rubbish so hard my trash cracks. My chiseled features
blur red, white, and black. I go from handsome to porous.
I turn to gladiator princess. I am your father’s fatal cigar,
his baby with an orphan babe hung around my neck.

The “I” here could easily be the poem itself speaking, speaking indeed for all the poems in the collection.

The poems throughout On The Fly are packed with a powerful mix of lyric beauty (“Even within, we pray sequins reflect the weather / in tints. Later we see a key, and enter our home, / at least, a sepia photo of a front door opening”), grinding invective (“This is not another war song, you pea. This is a caramelized / treatment of syntax that maps the wetness spatially spread / between the mucus that harbors our bodies…”) and the raw materials of the cultural collage that is contemporary reality (“…These character- / enhancing scars make my crimes of fashion sag, but / lately, I'm craving minimum cravings, dusty old records / that smell like a wood-paneled basement, / posters of Elvis on velvet, and the evolution /of ethnic foods on the Lower East Side.”). The poem “Scattered Horses” opens with a characteristic surrealism that permeates the entire collection:

Starting from the bottom is one way up
electric ghosts in the bones of his face go
for the heaven of his red-shoed heart.
They click lilliputian heels off-page with
a painted cross on a candy cane just
as the bandito puts his hand against mine.

King demonstrates that such an aesthetic can still be engaging. And the literary allusions/references (Dylan, Swift) in the above passage are pleasurable as well.

As abruptly energetic as the shifts are throughout the collection, the poems do settle at times into the conventions of extended metaphor, though always in surprising and engaging ways. “This is an Acting Marriage” opens thusly:

Suddenly happy palaces by the sea,
easy lip of the lake unfurls
if I can leave my cup
of heroics at the margins,
we routine goats of butting heads
are the phone calls Yeats
is imagined to have made

No Atlantis appears now nor
shared mind’s eye, no capsule to deliberate
governments against the backdrop
of waves to come, black and white movies

The rewarding instability of such imagery (with all its attendant music) is to be found throughout this collection of poems. In their incessantly polyvocal registers (held together, to be sure, by a shimmering presence of voice “inhabiting consciousness” [to draw on the title of one poem]), these song-shards of inclement desire, recouped memory and acrobatic perception satisfy with a mesmeric energy all their own.