Ben Doyle ["Ben Doller"], Lew Turco, Chris Turco, Morgantown WV, 1997.
FAQ by Ben Doller, Boise: Ahsahta Press, 2009, New Series #27, ISBN- 13 978-1-934103-05-0 trade paperback, $17.50.
The publisher says, “Thank you for your question. In this book of answers, Ben Doller (né Doyle, author of Walt Whitman Award–winning book Radio, Radio) molds a speaker confident in his own impertinence to the form of an FAQ culture, participating in an all-pervasive, invasive questioning—ultimately raising questions about voice, knowledge, and our speakers/our selves. Bending but not breaking to the form, this book of poems takes a turn for the novella, busting open the prose poem and walking the dotted yellow line in the headlights of an increasingly invisible interviewer.”
Susan Howe, who chose Doller’s first book, Radio, Radio as winner of the Walt Whitman Award, says, “Is what seems absurd really absurd? We can never be sure what poetry is for. This poet strikingly connects a world of surveillance with one of poetics. . . . Is this expert knowledge, or psychotic ‘private’ truth? . . . In an upstate wilderness of noir, the only certainty is that everything recurs, that recurrence itself recurs. What makes this young poet’s work so compellingly in the spirit of Crane and Spicer (even Poe) is its tone of pixilated delinquency.”
The Author says, “Thank you for your question. FAQ: springs from several fascinations: for one, the form and language of advice, especially the sort of advice frozen in online portals, usually tapped from the fingers of nameless or aliased non-credentialed purveyors of wisdom. I am happy to report that this fascination has now officially been exorcised. The other long-standing fascinations continue to linger and trouble: the (im)possibilities of the poetic line, the distinctness of aural and visual elements in writing, the obsessive accretion of sentences in prose, and the non-narrative potential of texts as energy.
“’Frequently Asked Questions’ (or ‘FAQ’ in the acronym) are masses of questions listed alongside corresponding answers, intended to streamline any website’s communicative features. If you want to know something within a certain context — any context — simply trace yourself into that context on the web, and you will most likely always find that you aren’t the first to have such a quandary (a disturbing existential problem in itself).
“I don’t know what I was looking for like five years ago, but there was something I wanted to fix, make, or understand. It might have even been a kind of poem or animal I wanted to know more about, and instead I found this strange ‘FAQ’ breed of meta-communication—a communication at once collective and clubby and oddly impersonal. (I often find myself a little too entranced reading similar such forms of formally directive public speech — recipes, instruction manuals, bus schedules, advertisements, and so on.)
“So I began Googling ‘FAQ’ — repeatedly — and got lost in the omnipresence of this form. Then I began to construct my own.
“The distinctly FAQ brew of laziness ISO couch-potato practicality, along with the complex dramatic situation inherent in this ghostly interface between people (or typings that are remnants of creatures that were at some point real people) still strikes me as funny, sad, and staggering. The necropolis of the interwebs is almost too nauseating to bear, the detritus fetid with abandoned possibilities and existences. The voices behind the “Frequently Asked Questions” blend together and boil. The voices behind the “Frequently Offered Answers” are conspicuous in their pretense of mastery and wisdom, while inhabiting merely partial identities, someones somewheres purely textual.
“Most poetry lies on the page in this same way: strings of decisions made we know not why, other potentials discarded and disappeared. A poem can be as remarkable for the things it omits — the zones it suggests but does not hazard — as the things it contains.
“No one even knows how to pronounce FAQ: ‘fak,’ ‘fax,’ ‘facts,’ ‘fock,’ or ‘ef-ay-cue.’ We live in an era so textual that the names we use are often only seen, never uttered. I want a poetry that does the exact opposite: combinations of words/sounds that make new meanings beyond their textual placeholders, new potentials, which liberate rather than confine a reader.
“FAQ: the book is, in some ways, a total resistance to FAQ the mentality.
“I was also thinking of the portability of conceptual art while writing this book, a suitcase full of concepts, jokes that can be retold in form only. Then there’s the South American experimental narrative tradition, which I love and towards which I can only hope to tip a hat. (Hello, Madam Lispector; Good evening, Señor Cortazar.) There’s “Fizzles.” There’s Cela’s Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son. There’s the piling up of language in sentences, in vignettes seemingly unconnected but by voice. Speaking of sentences piling, here’s where I should stop now.
“But there’s the line. As to the poetic line, it is the reason I am drawn to poetry. The line and its breaking is, to me, the fundamental quality of poetry, the thing about which I think the most, and of which I think the most highly. In this book, I wanted to see if there were ways that prose could hold the same potential for energy and transformation as I see built into the end of a broken line (the “gulp”). I hope the twin phantoms of poetic music and logic rattle their chains between these margin walls.
The publisher on its web page gives us a sample poem to read:
Thank you for your question. The first industrial modern robots were the Unimates developed by George Devol and Joe Engelberger in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The first patents were by Devol for parts transfer machines. Engelberger formed Unimation and was the first to market robots. As a result, Engelberger has been called the ‘father of robotics.’ I like to call my arm Engelberger Arm, these people it points to—“fixing the power”—Unimates. The flashlights on their helmets are undeniable, and therefore good. The lights on their helmets are each kind of part. O light, wed to dust, leave it, flux me into a cloud shape; I know the first man to lift a stick to strike was the first man, the first man to dissolve the first god the first god. Another theory posits the scarecrow as the first robot. This theory is endangered however, due to the recent discovery that the first scarecrow was an eviscerated crow. Still other theories posit the effigy, the story, the bomb, Cye, and the SDR-3X.
I say, Thank you, Ben, for your volume. Now I have two of them. No, I have three of them. No, I have two of one and one of the other. So I do have two of them. And three of them. But I do have both of them. Both of them are good. But one of them is doubly good because I have two of that one. Both of them speak volumes. Both volumes speak a volume. The speaking these volumes do is voluminous. One of them speaks voluminously twice. It is difficult to turn up the volume. When I go looking for it I turn up the wrong volume sometimes. Sometimes I turn it up twice and it is still the wrong volume. But thank you for both of them if not all three of them.