Julie Doxsee
Black Ocean ($12.95)

by Paula Koneazny

In Julie Doxsee’s Objects for a Fog Death, states of matter figure prominently: solids (ice/snow), liquids (water/rain/river/ocean), and gases (vapor). Fog perhaps represents an in-between state, the atmospheric conditions under which shapes become distorted and transmute. Of the four elements, water is primordial, but the poems also incorporate birds, wings, ghosts, and angels from the airy realm, and from earth, shadows and magnets. Fire manifests itself as lightning. Doxsee's poems might well do without their kitsch of angels, but that said, her angels have more in common with her shadow-puppets and origami birds than with clichéd supernatural beings, and her ghosts appear as a mist of hydrogen and oxygen, rather than as disembodied spirits.

Doxsee is at her best when brief, and many of her poems assume the manner of love poems. Folding, a recurring image in the book, expresses a sense of pleasure in the presence of the beloved. Take the six-line poem "Hotel":

I think of your hands
carefully folding paper

maps into strange swans
you leave S-necked in

the elevator. Please. Folding
me into an S on the bed.

Such snug poems as "Hotel" are juxtaposed with others that have sharper edges and more bite, like "X," in which "With a fingertip you cross / my chest beginning to end & // we graduate gradually / to knives." But the poems never quite veer in the direction of dangerous; the lovers fit together too well for us to ever become truly alarmed.

Many of Doxsee's poems are charming, some seductive, and others, unsettling. At her best, she knows how to engage in tasty word play while constructing surprising images, as evidenced in "Standing Up with No One":

Of the
sorts of vine, I prefer

divine. Divide
me the long way

so I'm no longer
double using a special

shatter-tool that
vivisects, perfectly. (81)

She is less successful when she abandons that border territory where real and surreal meet and falls prey to preciosity. Overly affected tropes, such as "a song about you / like a pillow to // eat" and "a song about you / made of igloos // ears can't swallow" (from "At First a Kind of Steering"), weaken the overall impact of the book. Still, Doxee and her poems know what they're about, which is best summarized by the poet herself when she says, "At least we climb around on / what poems do."

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2010/2011 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2010/2011