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boundary 2 28.3 (2001) 117-123
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Tracking Voices from “Elsewhere”:
Entering the Counter-U.S. Poetics of Faye Kicknosway
I have already published essays in Hawaiʿi and in Canada focused on the strange heteroglossia and other-voiced cultural uncanny coursing through Faye Kicknosway’s poetry.1 Far from the U.S. apparatus and its lyric fame-making modes, Kicknosway makes a fresh, estranged antivoice and highly original poetry, taking risks in form and de-habituated technique as she goes on writing about the American dispossessed in a chameleonlike dramatic style that dispossesses her of prior authority and judgment, and voids “the lyrical interference of the ego” in Charles Olson’s Maximus sense.2
As is clear from her ongoing project in creating an unselved poetics, [End Page 117] Kicknosway is open to otherness, increasingly so. Her casual comment to me back in 1987—that “following set patterns makes you small; the goal is to become bigger”—ought to be used as a pedagogical mandate by more than poets. Talking to her here and there over the years in Honolulu, I am always struck by the purity, singularity, and depth of her answers on conceptually difficult matters of audience, form, convention, and the ruses of the American poetry scene. She knows what she is up to, goes her own way, and remains tough-minded yet willing to share this crafty and spiritual knowledge with male and female, old and young, dumb and smart. I, for one, benefited immensely from some detailed information she gave me on the Language poets when I was refunctioning them in local Pacific contexts in the late 1980s, and she connected this countercanonical work to the writings of Henri Michaux, the machinic William Burroughs, and the mongrel mix of Peter Handke. Her “wonder boy” writing students in Hawaiʿi, who have gone on to some national fame in varying genres—Justin Chin, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, and Zack Linmark—lovingly credit her with the terror and ecstasy of a pedagogy that dismantled them of habit and easy convention, hence that dragged strange voices out into the public as writing performances.3
Kicknosway’s work in the poetry scenes in Detroit and San Francisco has been carried over the Pacific and stimulated, provoked, and benefited writing faculty and students in Hawaiʿi immensely, in an island scene that runs the risk of smallness, policed and pampered regionalism, and tame closure. She works to open up her audience in form and style. Her mode of speaking and teaching, her mode of writing outside the lyric apparatus, can be discontinuous, antihabitual, and metaphor laden, but the transnational space of U.S. counterpoetics needs a woman poet of such talent, risk, strangeness, singularity, and generosity.
Under the dying patriarchal paradigm of the confessional poem, Robert Lowell voiced the therapeutic lyric ego of the 1950s in all its tormented [End Page 118] self-capture—monologues of language that went on crazed past midnight, venting miseries and inner poisons that willfully eradicated traces of other tones and other voices. The keynote of such an (antidialogical) voice remains, say, the ill-spirited, toxic lover in “Skunk Hour”: “I myself am hell; / there’s nobody here—.”
Kicknosway’s All These Voices: New and Selected Poems is accurately entitled. Gathering brutal chapbooks, small-press broadsides, as well as some of her poems from 1972 through 1985, All These Voices builds up a hothouse panorama of voices obsessed not so much with the poet’s own self-therapy as with some kind of lucid self-effacement into the tormented language of others, “all these voices” comprising finally, Spicer-like, some expanded notion of selfhood. Her poems are indeed other-directed, rockingly embodied, voiced with outrageous stylistic exactitude and plenitude. As Edward Hirsch warns on the blue-marble cover of this thin, elegantly produced book from Coffee House Press, “Their calling is urgent, and we ignore them at our peril.”
Kicknosway comprises a cast of other “voices” (hardly secret monologues for any stagecraft Prospero-voice ego, as occurs even in...