Perhaps some will call me a poetry purist, but whatever happened to simplicity and subtlety? After reading Alice Fulton’s collection of poetry entitled Cascade Experiment, I was left longing for the elegant arrangements of Cummings and the brilliant metaphors of Plath. This collection is an obtuse mixture of melodrama and machination that I found hard to swallow. I seem to be alone in this interpretation however, as Fulton’s poetry is lauded by scores of critics. Though undoubtedly powerful, her phrasing is often heavy and overdone. “Sweeping the sky for a star undigested by the dark, planet perturbations, under the left breast, a heart” (Terrestrial Magnetism).
The underlying bitterness borders on self-pity much of the time, as Fulton pores over the memories of ex-lovers and stale affairs, parental wrong-doing and condemned nemeses. Though weighty with symbolism, these poems do not seem to invite examination, and, more lamentable still, they do not contain that magic formula which causes introspection, which hits on a nerve or a memory of one’s own. These poems are so personal, frequently peeling the cover off of privacies and growing ripe with anger, that the reader expects to find some memory, some dazzle from the light of his or her past. But try as I might, I could not connect with her words. The shadows of her experience, while common, lacked the minimalism needed to draw me into them, and into her.
The strange conflict I do find here is that Fulton is an excellent writer. Her use of language, sound, image, and structure are practically flawless, but even with the benefit of all of her skill, her poetry falls victim to sterility, which I suspect is derived from the solipsistic subject matter of the majority of the work. There is an imbalance about it; where there is rage there is no softness, and where cheeks burn hot there is no water to cool them. An author’s catharsis is best used when its existence depends on a partnership with the reader. When a writer’s pain leaves the pen to sear the paper, the reader picks it up, uses it, relates. That old phrase ‘misery loves company’ has always been true, but Fulton’s misery slams the door in our faces, and leaves us standing with blank minds and hollow hearts.