Poems by Sarah Fox
I want to tell you about etymology, transparency, excess, spontaneity, chance, and total embodiment. That aggression is propulsion toward visionary action. That we can resolve and transform ourselves through ever-malleable tools—psychoanalysis, myth and fairy tale, divination, allegory, incantation. Raccoons, birds, trees, sticks — all sorts of Whitman’s “divine materials” — are all around me and participating in the same life moment, and if I naturally am inclined to see the world as enchanted and conscious it doesn’t seem like appropriation. I want to tell you about excesses — of the body, the excessive astral body, excretions of the body and soul. I want to offer you a transcript of my human operating system and digress about the poet’s interest in, the poet’s political obsession with, origins, truth, beauty. I want to talk about so many things, flags and Ronald Reagan and cauls and succubi and symbols and shame and dismemberment and even things like Betsy Ross and Neptune in Pisces, and in so doing defend the nature and value of this thesis I’ve birthed and this essaying I can only dream-deliver, using that collectively-invented and collaboratively-sustained ball of fire called “Language.”
“[Fox] uses collage, footnotes and fragmentation to create poly-vocal works with both visual and textual elements. . . . These well-wrought images showcase Fox’s skill with rendering image — a fundamental of poetry that she doesn’t subvert.” —Star Tribune
“The First Flag is an extremely complex and ambitious book, one that cuts through the dead-serious “playfulness” and studied poses of much other experimental poetry. It is a book fashioned from the quick and the dead, the raw and the cooked. In it, Sarah Fox has created something profoundly daring, unique, unsettling, and beautiful.” —Tarpaulin Sky Press
“An LJ “poet to watch,” Fox returns in a pastiche of form, intelligence, experience, and imagination with verse and essays of experimental design. . . . Fox has a gift for grit, and she’s not afraid to use it.” —Library Journal
“I read a ton of fantastic books, thanks to this review column. But still, it’s rare that a book gets me so excited that my notes fill up pages and pages, and I simply can’t wait to start reviewing . . . The First Flag did that for me.” —Hazel & Wren
“It has been a long time since I have been so excited about a book of poems the way I am for Sarah Fox’s The First Flag. The poems are some of the most human-animal poems I have read, disarming and beautiful, scary because they are about us, honest and rough, intelligent and real.” —Tin House blog
“The First Flag is a mystic alimentary, blood, bone, and pearl poetics—utterly engaging in its seductive conversational tone. But it’s an odd conversation as Fox periodically cries her brains out in ecstasy, disbelief, grief. It’s a luminescent accomplishment, lush with decay, exploding with impossible meldings of stench and shimmer. By way of a powerful natal femininity she claws back the oral threads of her got-away story. I wanted to be right there when her words crowned. Her sentences deliver. It’s not just that her language is a trip; she is really saying something you find you want to hear all the way down.” —Nor Hall
“The masterpiece of this extraordinary collection is a hexagonal 36 poem cycle, ‘Comma’. Sarah Fox envisions herself as a separation daemon in a birth theater. By exorcising the hordes and weevil casts of her uteral spectres and conceiving of the ‘family romance’ as mantic veins to be pumped, she achieves the denouement of becoming fully (not just physically) born. Birth as apocalyptic breakdown; the work? Imaginal punctuality.” —Clayton Eshleman
“This book is not fearless, but, like Notley’s Alette, it pushes through fear as it pushes through membranes of harm, violence, toxicity, ill-inheritance, silence and suppression to retrieve a kind of knowledge from the opposite side. Fox’s poetry is a disarming, potent striving after some as-yet-unparaphrasable element which might, eventually, be healing. So necessary is this battle-passage for the liberation of our desiccated moment that our new flag must bear a line of Fox’s poetry: ‘FUCK THE PATROLMAN AT THE BORDER. At any border, within or without. ” —Joyelle McSweeney
“[Fox's poem 'COMMA'] marks the arrival of a strong new voice for our continuing poetry project.” —Jacket2
BlogTalk Radio, podcast interview with Fox
Check out an excerpt of The First Flag from Jacket2.
I Slid Out of My Mother’s Body
Of being numinous. Of drift and syringe.
Of metal atonement. Of a tube-fed
melancholy. Of post-terror karmic.
Of a certain amount of ear. Of the smog
smear around the blood hollow. Of the
ossified berry like a cave cataract. Of
my mind branched out through the fontanel,
antlering, leaves letting go of me.
I entered air a poisonous object subtracted
from a poisoned mother. Her radiance
scathes me. I’m a pharmaceutical interpolator.
My mother and I have the same (m)Other,
man-made (m)Om. I came astride the butcher’s
alchemical homologue. The butcher said,
we’ll grow up on this street.We’ll wear masks
to conceal our monstrous mutual disease.
He said, look at my throbbing moneybags.
I roam over a burial site, my cosmovisage,
some myness that is not quite dead yet.
A birth plan spilling cosmovergence.
At the door the wolves step backwards
into a box.My chained father
attempts to wing himself with flame.
His face hosts a second face
seared by mental hazards the wolves
find stinky and reject.
Outskirting his heart,Mother dangles
the sucked-out pelts of her nonviable
children. Love hiss sex terror.
Eros: an indiscriminate register.
All the bones yarn up.
They put me into a coma for my own good
and stored my body in a plastic box under
the stairs. Everyone in the house wore
steelheeled boots and made it be summertime
for many years, it was noisy with bugs.
Flies found me, smelled what death I bore.
I could never properly hear a human word,
only a hissing braided into my brainwaves.
Questioning began to break circuitry into the air
between myself and the listening surround.
At first my mouth formed only a zero
and I was mistaken by some for a doll.
This air shielded the world from my sound,
which was clotted and seizing, a stirring interior.
I only want to feel myself the mother of something.
I want, and want to redeem my fire. But a menacing
voice perseveres, blacks out my no more logos!
One day I awoke rearranged, like a sleepwalker
misplaced upon a terrain of erotic grenades.
Am I a manifesto? Am I cloudless now?
Little fuses sizzled, unfurling smoke signals
addressed to thoughtpods in outerspace.
Each grenade was a tiny twin of my own brain,
a memory vessel: my buried fetal cunt, its plastic crust.
A Woman Waits for Me
The membrane may be paperthin, wafer or wasp
nest, but: to prevail means first to penetrate.
What tentacle or sting wants my wristsnap,
wants me fixtured? It gets harder
to breathe with everyone jabbering
round the little stamen-pulse.
“Thread of the warp.” It’s like a hive in here.
Warped enclosure; conjugal. Stinger and punch.
What was cave-like (womb)—that was the first
illusion. The god of sleep, with his wings
and his entourage and his drugs, crept in
with a blueprint. I gnaw, purring, at his salty hide.
I began to notice the quality of song glass
makes while metabolizing. I began to fuse what was left
of my body to this noise which shape resembled what I knew
of jaguars.My jaguar was a hypnotist who insinuated a paradise
where the scalpel king remained tied-down in the wellhole.
My jaguar opened his mouth and produced a horse for my climb.
He pointed one way, then another. He said, Do not try
to force your horse up slopes like this one! It is bad for you and for your horse!
My jaguar, my sound, my saddle, my trance, my transgressive ascent.
I crowned my private wish with the antlers
I found in the bowels of my mother.
They were all that remained of Father.
I felt them clot to the wish skull and scrawl
a square on my mind. Thus, my courage ripened.
I sent my homemade parent on his errand—
but he might not be the kind that survives.