Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Line by Jennifer Moxley

The Post-Apollo Press, 2007

Reviewed by Matthew M. Gagnon

“In the liminal all times converge,” writes Jennifer Moxley in her fourth book of poems The Line. By skillfully evoking the past, present, and future, Moxley limns the in-between state of experience, the hours kept at bay by an associative mind. In this dream-state, the speaker of the poems, or the “you” that weaves through them, is occupied by trial and is henceforth affected by conditions that hinder or challenge the mark of history and a subject’s relationship with the orders of time and memory. In this sense, we are housed within the constructions of physical and mental spaces, as well as by the larger idea of the polis on the hill that are central to Moxley’s interconnected prose poems.

In the poem, “Awake,” the speakers says: “The flesh envies the word’s longevity but not its delayed effects.” The speaker’s bind conjures how words enter the blood stream of history and enjoy a circulation that’s more stable than memory, or what we desire to retain as knowledge. However “delayed” the word might be, it promotes its own action outside of belief, in terms of it being lodged in-between speaker and its intended target.

The speaker in the title poem, “The Line,” instructs that “You will walk out of the visible and learn to accept the darkness. You will find the line.” What is the line that Moxley has in mind? It is partially a register of the ideal of utterance, which moves freely through time, as opposed to a diachronic understanding of the movement of time through history. “The Line” ends with a provocation to write: “Find time in words. Replace yourself cell by letter, let being be the alphabetic equation, immortality stay the name.” The complexity of the statement is suggestive of a larger vision that runs through The Line. I read the “cell” as the necessary structural unit of our physical body. It also implicitly mirrors the enclosure of a cell whose nature is to impede mobility: a devised place where deviation from social standards is ostensibly dealt with. By this transfer of “cell by letter,” Moxley seems to suggest that while words certainly bear the fruit of history, there is a naming that transcends physical borders, whether private or public.

Moxley’s prose poems, or machines constructed of precise words, invite the reader to share the burden of engagement with self and other, to partake in a state of being where personal myth is manufactured even as “material evidence contradicts memory.” This is more than a mapping of our social location. From “The Cover-Up”:

      That was an under-motivate lie that has no eye on the future. You’ve met others, artful people who repress their feelings in order to distort time. Because they cringe at the force of the past they cultivate cultural amnesia. How do they do this? If they have money or power anyone who dares contradict them is seen as envious and petty. If they are as yet unknown, they threaten their friends with the divulgence of their unattractive secrets. If they are notorious they remain quiet.

      They encourage others to reveal themselves and then store these confessions as ammunition. They leak poisoned hints about brewing conspiracies in order to distract from their own schemes. They play on fear and guilt. They invent instances of injustice to rally the people to arms. As the crowd seethes with righteous anger, they sneak out the back.

What Moxley employs through this passage is not only an urgency local to our own socio-political status, but an urgency of self concerned with reputation and power. In effect, we are marked by an interior life that operates despite of, or in spite of, the clamor of the past on the consciousness. Moxley’s use of the pronoun “they” invites a reading that’s engaged with an insidious oligarchic mainframe holding the public, its individual and collective consciousness, with as much distain as the earth we stand on. However, the “you” of the poem is not designed as innocent individuation when juxtaposed with the State and its public servants. As much as we would like to entertain the notion of our innocence, we are afflicted by our own relation to these power structures; our subjectivity is implicated and countered by the line of time, and Moxley as a guide shows us through perfect syntax, that “I am exactly like them. I neither forgive nor forget.”

All of this is not to suppress the intensive scope of interior distinctions, such as the various states of living domestically and within a kind of twilight zone, which occupies a space between sleep and initial waking. The narratives of how we inhabit these spaces are a complex web of disclosures and loss: consciousness and Ego are alive and well, but are tampered with by self, other, and the ideal of writing. Consider “Elsewhere Here”:

For 40 pages your eyelids have stood guard against the bright early morning sunlight. On the surface of your sleep-life renegade sentences have puzzled each other into impotent shapes. En route to delirium the depleted conductor of your weaving consciousness oversees the work. Knowing that this display of mental agility—no passive amniotic reception—is never present in waking life, the agitated pleasure you feel in the exercise has become heartbreakingly seductive. Should you get up? Could the threshold be traversed by other means? Is there a brilliant mode of comprehension your consciousness denies you? Yes. The knowledge that accrues without your knowledge refines the pleasure of alienation, processes undesired stimuli, and the whispered exchange of mysterious data. By closing your eyes you have become a permeable environment: the taunting paradox of all that you know, just out of reach inside your own head.

What Moxley considers and displays are the rich underpinnings of our brain’s multiple actions. Here, these actions are linguistically charged to carry over into a substratum of doubt, delirium, and contradiction. This poem as others do in The Line, call upon difference and the tenuous negotiation between a so-called field of polar opposites, as in reading the unread—a passivity that self inhabits in sleep or the “permeable environment”—and finding those value systems whose power and logic entwine our lives, or in other words, make us punctilious citizens of the world. These kinds of inhabitancy are erected with sound and sense in Moxley’s 43 prose poems that encompass The Line. The sensations therein are real and perhaps, dear reader, “What you know seems useless next to what you don’t.”


Jennifer Moxley is the author of Imagination Verses (Salt, 2003), The Sense Record (Salt, 2003), and Often Capital (Flood Editions, 2005). She has translated two works by Jacqueline Risset, The Translations Begins and Sleep's Powers. She currently teaches at the University of Maine in Orono.


Matthew M. Gagnon grew up in northeastern Massachusetts and has since lived in Vermont, Colorado, and western Massachusetts. He is currently a student at the University of Massachusetts MFA Program for Poets & Writers in Amherst. His review of Graham Foust's Necessary Stranger is appearing in the most recent issue of Octopus Magazine.