Object-Oriented Poetry: Sheer Indefinite by Skip Fox

Forget Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Skip Fox’s Sheer Indefinite reveals that our day’s poets are, rather, the computer programmers of the universe. If our universe is indeed a virtual simulation, like so many Hollywood movies and conspiracy theorists posit, Skip Fox’s Sheer Indefinite is the reference manual to its sublime syntax. And rest assured, it is a far-cry from Shelley in both purpose and execution.

It’s possible that the fabric of our supposed virtual reality finds host in Skip Fox’s poetry. Given my elementary understanding of science, our world indeed is “[blossomed] in starlight.” I am not hesitant to say that Skip Fox may be onto something. But please be patient with the abstruse code.

The title alone should give it away. ‘Sheer indefinite,’ the phrase, connotes a mystery, all the while hinting at the absolute only thing it could be. ‘The universe’ is the answer to Skip Fox’s titular riddle inside an enigma. Two-hundred pages comprise the hefty output of two decades. Two decades represented by more than a hundred selected poems from nine collections with titles both odd and even. Two decades that Fox devoted to undermining ‘conventional’ poetry and exalting that which dares to… dare.

Granted, it’s not the first time an author has aspired to catalog the indefinite in a finite stretch of pages. James Joyce once spoke of his infamous Ulysses as a tome that could be used to reconstruct his native Dublin were it to disappear from the face of the earth. The influence isn’t exactly kept a secret: Fox grants Joyce an understated cameo on page 97 of Sheer Indefinite–the epigraph to his poem “Economics of Metonymy” comes straight from that pesky Ulysses. 

Really though, by the time Joyce’s named showed up, I was already sure that Skip Fox regularly steeped pages torn out from Ulysses alongside his favorite morning tea mix. I initially pored through Sheer Indefinite in the same manner as I had read Ulysses. Finding myself perplexed by Fox, I focused entirely on the poet’s voice and his poems’ aesthetic forms. I read aloud some lines and others, I copied onto my notebook. For poetry’s sake. But even hardened veterans of verse may find that the most joy Sheer Indefinite deigns to grant them will come from flipping through it. Many of the poems for what they lack in lucidity are gorgeous on the page. Its construction entices you to read it–though you may be left with an insatiable itch on your head for the rest of the day. Not two months ago I bought a Kindle (coincidentally, using money earned from a poetry contest) and set a rule that I would reserve poetry for the printed page. Skip Fox affirmed my conviction. Sheer Indefinite would simply not work on a 6″ screen, e-ink or otherwise.  Not to mention that, as a display piece, few books will work better in intriguing and subsequently confounding your guests.

Just a flip through the lengthy table of contents will let them know that Skip Fox is not about rhyme schemes or dedications to beloveds (though of the latter, one may or may not be named Cindi). The only semblance of scheme is the vague resemblance to the programming language. And most of his dedications of love are to Charles Olson, Ezra Pound, and Martin Heidegger. Though he stirs deep impressions and uncovers objects concrete and ethereal, Skip Fox is no imagist like H.D. He professes “it is angels prepare the synapse between / lightning bolts” and that “all things are drawn to distraction.” Among his favorite implements of torture are unmatched left parentheses and recycled titles (particularly “sic transit.”

If you identify as an “obsessive-compulsive,” ask a doctor before taking Skip Fox.

Stomaching these poems is reserved for those among ye with absolute faith in poetry. Sheer Indefinite will not instill that faith, unless untitled poems that look like mini-essays are what you’ve been holding out for. Whatever rewards are contained in the pages of this anthology are not likely to mirror the rewards from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge anthology. But perhaps for that selfsame reason, Sheer Indefinite deserves the space on your shelf more.

The secrets of the universe begin on page 89.

Publisher: University of New Orleans Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-60801-080-6
Binding: Hardcover
Price: $22.95

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