B. K. FISCHER
How is ekphrasis like a child in the womb? It takes sustenance from that which came before. Forty weeks, three trimesters. A gallery of missing things, to which the poems are testament. Never have I read a book that inquired so deeply into the ekphrastic motive or acknowledged so capaciously the first edenic insight: the crucial beginning is the one that came before my own. As its title suggests, St. Rage’s Vault does not present us with a realm of settled contemplation: it shakes the foundations, even as it testifies, in its own fine lineaments, to the power of beauty.
A poem is not a body, but the poems in B.K. Fischer’s St. Rage’s Vault are about as bodylike as they can be—built for speed and languor, desirous of getting and giving pleasure, and humming with mysterious processes. I began: If Anne Sexton had John Keats’ child…. But like the newborn, this book is its own self. If you want to be ravished by what pregnancy feels like and thinks like, read it.
“Poems from poems, songs / from songs, paintings from paintings, / always this friendly / impregnation,” writes Adam Zagajewski as if acknowledging this sequence which, divided into trimesters, charts the arc from annunciation to newborn through the visual arts. To call these poems ekphrastic, however, is to diminish them, as each poem probes, with “shaky bravura,” deep enough into the artwork to anticipate the “inexorable / onset of what would begin / with a twinge.” Language driven, playful—even the title is a clever and complex pun—and wholly original in its transformations, “each square // almost a sound,” St. Rage’s Vault is the formidable work of a poet who refuses “to succumb to stasis, savage / inaction,” one who charges each page with bold strokes of words perfectly placed, then spun sideways.
A roadtrip novel-in-verse, Mutiny Gallery follows a mother and son on an exuberant cross-country journey to outposts of Americana. Fleeing domestic peril, Claire embarks with her young son Max on a continental zigzag through psychic and actual states of dislocation, abandon, and absolution. With candor and verve, these poems intertwine terms of class, consumer culture, self-invention, race, rebellion, faith, freedom, and the erotics of the everyday. B. K. Fischer’s luminous collection navigates a woman’s quest to traverse the American landscape with her wits intact, a quest that catches her in nets of caregiving and crisis, love and loss.
Praise for Mutiny Gallery
Richard Howard writes:
As ever in these situations, the characters must keep telling who they are in order to recall who they were, to discover who they will be: this mother and son are escaping Everything, even each other, and of course all they flee is all they find:
Surely a seedy love scene is coming up,a cheap fling, except she is travelingwith a chaperone too young to leave.
Criss-crossing a USA of nightmare museums where Edward Lear is King and the Queen of Heartache is Alice, of course they're in heaven if only they could stop anywhere, somewhere... Already heaven. In the Next-to-Last Museum, word is out:
Her son, lifting a bowl to drink. Shelets the breeze pick up the page again,weights it down with her free hand.
America has given B. K. Fischer the Dream and she gives back all she woke to find: Mutiny Gallery! Her visionary poetry is a good mother's song, her novel a bad boy's scream. As another of those, I salute her and the revels I long to join.
Alice Fulton writes:
Fine-grained and subtle as mind itself, Mutiny Gallery is both a complex psychological portrait of material culture and a delicate rendering of extreme circumstances. B.K. Fischer's beautifully made poems embrace the transformative power of language even as her fictive characters resist the constraints of time, parenthood, and memory. In this profoundly imagined debut, a mother kidnaps her son, and they embark on a cross-country tour of seedy, gritty, oddball museums. But summary can't capture the toughminded elegance and surprising detours of Fischer's gorgeously fresh, sharply perceptive work--or the depth of these fabulously cheesy, weirdly poignant museums. "Mom, where's the Louvre?" the son asks. As if in response, Fischer's spacious poems breathe new life into the ekphrastic mode: "She looks around / for something to make of it other than the usual cubist death riff." Her maverick museums are archives of domestic peril as well as cultural ephemera: they invoke bridges burned as well as preserved, lives lived near the edge, the desperation of poverty, people falling through the safety net. Catalysts for meditation and metaphor, exceeding their literal sites, these wayward collections give rise to rich ontologies of childhood and piercing intimations of mortality: "Fear nightcap, cruel cordial, spit spot." By such means, Mutiny Gallery brilliantly realizes--and revels in--the deepest possibilities of poetry and art.
Timothy Donnelly writes:
If a museum preserves things of value by keeping them in place, the protagonist of B. K. Fischer’s exceptional debut has another idea--she preserves what she values by keeping it in flight. Dynamic, inventive, sonically rich, hard-hitting, whip-smart, and revolutionary in both spirit and form, Mutiny Gallery is among the most thought-provoking and scrupulously crafted books of poetry I have read in years—and certainly the most difficult to put down.
Tony Barnstone, from the T. S. Eliot Prize citation:
Mutiny Gallery was able to maintain very high quality writing, poem after poem, and to channel its brilliance into a novel-in-verse without dulling the light. I enjoyed the poems’ combination of cleverness, wittiness and innovative technique, for which one usually pays a price: a draining away of heart. Not in this case—these poems all have heart, big heart. I enjoyed a few characteristic techniques used in the manuscript (the telegraphed sentences, the linguistic play, the listing, the use of narrative betrayal, the museum conceit, and especially the consistently wonderful endings that opened up instead of closing off the poems). Finally, I enjoyed and was impressed by the overall arc of the manuscript. It reads like a novel, and like a novel that takes its time with place and character, and I read it with a sense of suspense, wanting to know what was going to happen next. It’s a terrific book, a fine accomplishment.
All Content Copyright 2014, B. K. Fischer. All rights reserved.
Author photo: Debbie Allan