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Book Review: Skip Fox

A fantastic passage in Skip Fox’s dizzying, beautiful collection of poetry, Sheer Indefinite, comes from the long, riveting poem (and there’s several of those to be found here), “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”

It strikes you as hard as any great line from any of the great poems in this collection, and it reminds you that the ride a poem like “title in bold” or “late autumn” is not over until the ride has come to a complete stop. One of the wonderful things about Skip Fox is that you sometimes can’t imagine how that ride is going to end:

the first sounds still bounce
off  trees in the dawn. Each
moment murders the last”

Sheer Indefinite is a collection of considerable weight, wisdom and humanity. It’s the best of Skip Fox over a twenty-year period, 1991-2011, and for anyone who has read any of his work, enjoyed even one of his intensely personal, miles-deep poetry collections, that can amount to a pretty heady brew of material. Passages like the one abound in Sheer Indefinite. Although many of the poems play some wild, complex games with form and style, you can find lines and images like the one from “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in just about every poem brought together here.

Fox has been a teacher for over thirty years. You don’t have to know that to enjoy pieces like “Death blossoms in oblivion”, or the intense, burning, unreal “Economics of Metonymy: sic transit”, but it does give you added insight into the unbelievable range of styles, and ambition of turning poetic conventions upside down or inside out that Fox realizes over and over again. This collection leaves little doubt of Fox’s love and experience with poetry. Part of that love is expressed by seemingly never running out of ways to build roads for his words to travel on. To see those roads in a physical form would be to see something along the lines of an MC Escher painting.

And how do the words travel along those roads? Some of them move recklessly, dangerously along them, and others (such as the second piece on page fifty-three) travel at such a deliberate, steady pace that you can feel each and every moment of the years that went into its creation. You probably won’t read the book in a single sitting, but to read even a few of these in a row can be devastating. Fox has clearly seen a lot. Pulled a lot of observations and snapshots from his memory and taken them as far into his ability to imagine them going further, or just imagine them at all, as he possibly can. And the ways in which he can do that do not feel exhausted by the end of Sheer Indefinite. Clearly he will never run out of observations, and he will never lose whatever drives him to express those observations in surprising, innovative ways.

Sheer Indefinite is in the end a triumph of deepness. There’s depth in the language, how that language breathes and speaks, and most of all in the places those images inevitably take us. Some (“from “Scrolls, Clouds and Earth” has to be read to believe the creative heights it reaches) travel across as a city of thoughts as large as the world. While completely different pieces (“Meanwhile. A lull, like dying of yellow.”) take small details and stretch them out to reveal more than we ever would have suspected. The possibilities never end. Twenty years of poetry across nearly two hundred pages. It’s an autobiography with time enough to look at the world around the life observing it. It’s a history that hasn’t even come close to dying yet.

Skip Fox, Sheer Indefinite: A

Sheer Indefinite, now available on