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Quaker Guns

By (May 8, 2008) No Comment

Quaker Guns
Caroline Knox
Wave Books, 2008

Caroline Knox is a serious goofball. In Quaker Guns, her sixth and latest book of poetry, her over-the-top whimsy pays off more often than not, sometimes with big dividends.

Though Knox’s poems are often downright silly, there’s an intellectual heft behind them that keeps this collection from feeling like novelty poetry. Like a literary analogue to Jeff Koons (the sheer delight of his giant Mylar balloon), she’s working largely on a conceptual level, though the work is also beautifully crafted. Her “conceptual” poems include one where the title (which is “The Title”) appears mid-poem, another that functions as the “source text” for two E.E. Cummings poems (had they actually been erasures), a recipe for a really fucked up Jell-o salad, a ten-line poem whose couplets adhere to a pointless eye-rhyme scheme: “A Jesuit / appeared in an apesuit” (suggesting that rhymes do not a poem make).

In general Knox makes a bit of a mockery of form. “A Lot of the Days I Wake Up” is an abecedarian whose N and Q lines are, in their entirety, “Nerf” and “quiche”—but lest we think these words serve only to fill out the form, the concepts return in the final lines:

We couldn’t tell what was really going on in the photograph of the
xebu, because of overexposure.
You see, we’re in the Nerf quiche
zone again.

Don’t think Knox must resort to such gags because she hasn’t got the skills to dazzle with lines alone. She can also pull off major sonic fireworks, as in “We Beheld Two Nebulas:” (“These were atomized rotor-thrown / specks pocking a fresco— / a marks and sparks assay // in spume made out of rays”), and sparkling philosophical inquiry, as in “My Husband Sat Up”:

My school friend Annie
is descended from Garrison,
so Garrison is hidden in Annie

as mica is hidden in vermiculite.
Garrison famously said, “I will be heard.”
What weight would you give to this.
Do you want to know more.

I wanted to know more and kept reading.

Elisa Gabbert is the poetry editor of Absent and the author of The French Exit (Birds LLC) and Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press, 2007). Her latest chapbook co-written with Kathleen Rooney is Don’t ever stay the same; keep changing (Spooky Girlfriend Press). Recent poems can be found in Colorado ReviewThe Laurel ReviewPuerto del Sol, and Salt Hill.