Hallucination by William Fuller

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The first poem in William Fuller’s provocative new collection of poems, Hallucination, ends with what is for Fuller an uncharacteristically clear statement of intention. Here is the complete poem:

My eyes close: horse, dog, monkeys gather together at wood’s edge—to observe one
another, make sounds, drink juice, pour down salt. The primitive nature of this scene
evokes deep memories of crude states, before the imposition of trembling, paleness,
and sobbing. As I will show
(“For the Void”)


by William Fuller
Flood Editions Publishing

The poem begins with a strange collection of thoughts in some precognitive state. The second sentence reflects on these thoughts as crude, primitive, and awaiting an organizing principle. That organizing principle, however, is made up of the drained and unhappy states of trembling, paleness, and sobbing.

The ending fragment, “As I will show,” tells what Fuller has in store for us: this entire collection will focus on how imposed order diminishes the rich, primitive, chaotic experience of being alive. This, of course, is not a new notion. However, the questions Fuller draws from his meandering explorations make Hallucination a very strange and interesting new book.

Throughout his career, Fuller has stood firmly on the l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e side of poetry. Hallucination, his seventh full-length collection, continues his interest in disrupting and challenging how we create meaning.

This new work is filled with a wild collection of abstractions and concrete details that almost completely resist understanding. His interest isn’t in coherent images and ideas but in the odd, inscrutable juxtapositions of them. This is a segment from “OK Jazz Funeral Services”:

. . . here’s a set of principles shaped like a plane
flying low over the city
it looks like a clarinet—
give me my ticket and my
tangled red hair and my green
coat and my purple hand-knit scarf
and also my
glasses . . .

Fuller’s poems rely heavily on the piling up of declarative statements. The formal stability of serial declarations is countered by the disjunction of those declarations. This tension forces us to pay attention to our expectations of clarity and the ways language is used to create clarity.

Exposing the ways that information is organized and absorbed has long been one of the goals of disjunctive poetry. The question is whether this is the sole intention of Fuller’s work. If so, how many poems do we have to read until we “get it” and stop reading?

Among the reasons to keep reading are the personality and humor Fuller injects into his work. Alongside his efforts to unsettle meaning there is a marked playfulness. Here is an example from the prose poem “For Daily Kimoko.” This excerpt follows a tangled abstraction about the attainment of a higher level of awareness.

Such an attainment would fill up our hearts without resorting to paradox. Any
estimated shortfall would still leave adequate amounts set aside to satisfy our
need not to fluctuate. Even a dog knows this. A happy, inquisitive, spontaneous
dog, eating hungrily.

The insertion of the dog gives us a fun and needed break from the abstractions that precede it. Fuller’s poems are not cold in their detachment but rather are imaginatively frolicsome. Throughout the collection he demonstrates an inventiveness of detail, a pleasure in his idiom, and an instinct for shifting to disconnection just at the moment of clarity.

But playfulness aside, what makes Fuller’s work so interesting is the way it moves beyond a simple rejection of traditional “sense making.” He is interested in exploring our hunger for meaning and for the mysterious aspects of everyday life not captured in words. His work is rife with interjections that comment on this:

. . . whitewashed hills / a sympathetic combination / of bare trees and stiff grass / the atmosphere / dense from the ambiguity of words used to name it . . .
(“Earthly Events”)

. . . vast blue palaces of space / stuffed into my head / they float exceptionally well / offering no explanation except speech / itself . . . to the demonstrated absence of a material fact—
(“OK Jazz Funeral Services”)

Recently we have been collecting all kinds of concepts and boiling them down to one or two. Our old approach was to try to quantify uncertainties, which led to our eventual recognition that quantifying uncertainties only increased our perplexity.
(“Psychological Ethics”)

Fuller’s poetry isn't just about what words mean but is about the value that the meaning of words has to us. He reminds us of how we as social beings reach for language to make sense of the world. While his work continually undercuts meaning, it also circles back and reminds us of our need for meaning and our relentless desire to understand the world. Although these references can be funny and at times sarcastic, he conveys an overall warmth and sympathy for our mutual pursuit of meaning. It is our great joining force. Even if understanding is held from us (as it is in Fuller’s poems), what remains is our desire for communication, desire for connection.

                        . . . in contempt

                        of content

            green skies approach, the price

                        soars . . .


                        as you see

            the fund is closed but the beast

                        still adores you

                       (“Eastern Slope”)

The “fund” (coherence) may be closed to us, but the “beast” (the connection we have through language) still adores us. This acknowledgment of our connection—as we reach out through language to understand and explain the world—is threaded throughout Hallucination. Of course, Fuller provides no answers. But his insistence in exploring these ideas moves his work beyond the familiar scope of disjunctive and dissociative poetry.

Fuller has created a work that undermines the way language is used while affirming our continual efforts to use language to make sense of our world.