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Felt by Alice Fulton W. W. Norton, 2001, 92 pp., $22 Alice Fulton's fifth collection has no true title poem, though "The Permeable Past Tense of Feel," an obvious reference to the book's title, serves that function by giving us a clue to the book's larger intentions. There are more ambitious and more accompUshed poems in the volume, but it's here that Fulton gives us the final sparkling lines, "I Uke to prepare the heart/by stuffing it with the brain," an apt gloss on the book as a whole. The metaphor Fulton finds most appropriate to her purpose is that of the felting process, described early on in "Fair Use": ". . . As felt/is formed by pressing /fibers fill they can't be wrenched apart,/nothing is separate, the entire planet/being an unexpected example ." In poem after poem, Fulton "felts" the brain into the heart, often via strong visuals, as in the collection's second poem, "Close." Here Fulton examines Joan Mitchell's painting White Territory as she imagines the artist must have had to see it, "no farther away/than arm's length." "Close" contains no expUcit reference to felting, but it effectively introduces us to many of the book's other recurring concerns: the power of art, the nature of intimacy, the possible richness of the flawed and ordinary, celebrated here in Fulton's observation , "I could see the artist's hairs in the pigment." "Close" also gives us a good example of Fulton's work in fractal poetics. In a 1986 essay, "Of Formal, Free, and Fractal Verse: Singing the Body Eclectic," Fulton explains that each part of a fractal form replicates the entire structure's form: "each smaller part looks like the entire structure, turned around or tilted a bit." Her most ambitious use of fractal verse in Felt comes in the long poem, "About Music for Bone and Membrane Instrument = =." Here, replicated over and over, are fans: Japanese paper fans, eighteenth-century fans, rock-and-roll fans and more. Fulton so saturates the word "fan" with possible meanings and contexts that it ceases to be a word and becomes instead a nexus of connections between simultaneous and disparate realities. Unfortunately, the linguistic play so overrides the emotional concerns that the poem never quite becomes the serious meditation on the fragUity of human intimacy that it could have been. Perhaps Fulton's most accomplished application of fractal poetics is in "Split the Lark." Here she deftly makes the figurative literal as she describes the gourmet practice of preparing and eating ortolan, a larklike bird related to the finch. This time the language foregrounds her theme—in this case human cruelty— instead of obfuscating it. Some of the book's best lines are here. Felt contains other gems as well. "Prequel" is a gorgeous lyrical meditation on drafting. "Maidenhead" tenderly recalls the poet's own girlhood , framed by details from Emily Dickinson's life and that of a beloved but "unnormal" aunt. While I would hesitate to call it truly ground-breaking , AUce Fulton's Felt is a worthy and exciting sequel to Sensual Math and her other previous volumes. (MB) 206 · The Missouri Review ...


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