An Army of Lovers vacillates, at times wildly, between being an object that exposes poetry itself to the diagnosis of absolute futility and on the other hand endangering even its own hip existence with the prospect of utopia. Meanwhile, and to our greatest pleasure, we can be certain that the book works against the reification of what a Bay Area poetry or even Bay Area poet might be. This is particularly important when coming from cities that claim to be “lefty” or claim to be “bad-ass,” where the pressure is on to make a statement about the state of the art as futile or utopian or both. The hinge of irony, therefore, is always left swinging, the door left half open, so that one might end up inside as if by accident. As a sequence of five short prose pieces, each with their own logic, An Army of Lovers raises and at the same moment drops the question of the poet’s novel, while opening onto a better question of genre and the poetic, in the move from haut-fantasy to unadorned description. The question of the poetic, at least, as Spahr and Buuck pose it, considers whether weakness and limitation, and doubt and disgust, with ourselves and our state, with our art and its present manifestations, can ever be captured by the ironic, even as the seam of vulnerability shows through—even if we muster the freedom to scoff at it. Surprisingly, it’s a book fixated on themes of morphology and species, nature and use. There are the small sovereign sites made of certain threads, of certain stories, like that of the edible fig—a figure that drifts cautiously from its referent, asserting its autonomy from the life its been proposed to describe, such that the story of the edible fig “is not just the easy and obvious one of invasion from afar.” Because Spahr and Buuck’s prose occasions the tumbling away of contexts, in the startling but coherent connections of the present, it finds potent ways of posing the question of being: 

 

This opening was so small, that some of the pollen on the surface of body of Female Wasp was scraped off as she passed through. There she inserted her ovipositor down the style tube to deposit her eggs, but the styles of Edible Fig were so long that Female Wasp could not easily deposit her eggs, so she had to insert her ovipositor down the style tube again and again and as she attempted this again and again she deposited pollen and fertilized the flowers vigorously even though she realized that she would never be able to leave the syconium.

 

The symmetry of the book offers a bit of solace, with a dystopian shit storm and a revolutionary dance-party as the beginning and end respectively; with two parallel but ultimately divergent stories about disease and individuation, both called “Side Effect,” occupying the second and fourth positions; and dead center, the détournement of Raymond Carver’s frill-less realism into a night cap discussion of the political in poetry. This conversation between four Bay Area poets, “all from somewhere else,” glosses the stilted potential in the simple enunciation of words like “capitalism” in poetry, as in Zukofsky’s quotation of Marx in A-9, as well as the “fucking beautiful” poetry of Muriel Rukyeser, “full of clear language, no need to quote Marx to get the point across.” The exchange of our endearing interlocutors, hopelessly abstract and hopelessly determined by the field of heterosexual micro-aggression, takes on its own life as an interesting allegory for poetry. Is there a way to separate the questions of futility or utopia from the question of failure? From the question of the inevitability of fucking everything up, or from stasis? How does An Army of Lovers accomplish being both robust and deficient as a proposal to action, to the elimination of the poet’s alienated bourgeois individualism? Why are we not scandalized, and instead perhaps tickled knowing that Spahr and Buuck’s “collaboration was clearly not working and had not been working from the very beginning.” Attuned to the labor of conceptualization, the event of the book is the sort of absurdity we can get cosseted by, even if, in keeping with the times, we are supposed to feel shame in the face of ambivalence, and then do and don’t, depending. That is, we like and don’t like to be reduced to severity, to the deep questions that any writing draws up, and we like and don’t like the techniques we’ve invented to probe that depth: 

 

That’s right, we want art that makes us wet and driven, driven to flail and whelp and court failure in our impulse to action, again and again, failing with ever more grace and cunning, until futility becomes the magic that when dissolved beneath the tongue of all those ready to bark leads to more fruitful inquiries, for our bodies are bored by answers, even if in our questioning some of us are led to then ask how we might refuse this, refuse all of this.

—Jackqueline Frost

 

 
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