Ben Doller

Wesleyan, 2015

None of the language in Fauxhawk, Ben Doller’s fourth book, is entirely his own. Some poems are shot through with Beatles lyrics, the Bill of Rights, Looney Tunes; others are more pointed rewrites or writings-through of texts—Hopkins, US military documents, Fanny Howe. The book’s borders have been flung open, and a political porosity’s the point. It seems important for Doller that we don’t always know where the language is coming from, but the poems resonate more fully when we do, and when the book’s irreverent musics and punning improvisations take root in form.

The second part of the first poem, for instance, is a sprung-foot-for-sprung-foot rewrite of Hopkins’s “The Windhover”; but Doller’s hawk is a fake, a “cropper-cropt-cop buzzard,” and there’s “no wonder in it.” The diction’s surface tension pleases, as it does throughout the book, sparking and sliding from jargon to jargon: “I taught I taw tis evening evening’s cotillion, thing- / craft as a comet complex.” But something deeper is at work in how the stunts play off and pay homage to their history, in this case the manic cadence of Hopkins’s authentic wonder.

Another poem (“Cybermonday”) is a collage of hashtags. The playfulness of the gesture is darkened by the implicit realization that the poem’s half-life, in 2015, is only guaranteed until the next techno-fad sweeps the stage. In this sense the poem’s a concept piece, a statement of what it means to make art when the stuff of consciousness—“flexibleemeralds spermicidal ketchup / petrochemicalbags”—is only so much man-made ephemera.

The final three sections of the book work as independent, short-form projects. “HELLO”—a smart, hilarious footnoted exegesis of a single, short poem—is the collection’s centerpiece, and allows Doller to articulate his language-conscious, destabilizing poetics for the reader in prose form. But he’s not just helping us understand; he’s stripping the veneer off his craft as he plies it, exposing (and privileging) the artifice of the aesthetic. Here, he (by now predictably) proclaims his allergy to “manufactured epiphany”: “Indeed, many zones of the poem (now de-sonneted, reformed) still reveal the writer’s desire to yield to a faceless, empowered, entrenched, and fundamentalist poetry referee.” Some of the argument is familiar, another rant against a confessional bogeyman who isn’t Marxist enough to “to stage rage to play / a little ditty to raw power.” But the form of Doller’s irony is his own, ingeniously uncompromising in its lyric deconstructions.