Monday, May 3, 2010

The Scented Fox

Brown, Laynie. The Scented Fox. Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2007.

Laynie Brown’s The Scented Fox explores the tale form as a series of “strange returns and recognitions” (Howe qtd in Brown 9) wherein “Each word itself is an arrangement/ The story must exist in each word or it cannot go on” (Zukofsky qtd in Brown 9). In an effort to promote the “strange returns and recognitions,” Brown writes within several reoccurring forms throughout the collection. For example, she employs the epistolary form, often addressing these letters to the natural world (e.g. “To a vine leaf” (38) and “To larks” (32)). But more than just letters, the poet cycles through surreal prose narratives; short lyric pieces, which sometimes appear as lullabies or monologues; or three-word stories that function as seed words wherein the reader constructs their own extended narrative from and around them; as well as an imagined dictionary. In its most dynamic moments, the book conflates these forms, such as in the poem “Ceremony for a Man Possessed by the Spirit of a Lion”; within this poem, there is a prose narrative, a letter, and a lyric poem. In this way, the collection, the poet, and the reader “set out to disarrange” themselves by writing and reading in a “whichways aslant” that attempts to capture “all forms which had passed beneath [our] eyes” (16). The “strange returns and recognitions” are perpetuated, likewise, by the manner in which Brown scatters the letters and “The Travelling Crystal” poems throughout the book, instead of grouping them within their own sections. But more than the alterations and oscillations of global form, the poems, as the Zukofsky epigraph makes clear, focus on the microforms inherent to each word. The most evident example of attention to word “arrangement” is the “antiquate words” (16) Brown uses; take, for instance, the following passage: “yet no contryl of the features of this landscappe she did seek to carve out in words before her” (16). In addition to the outdated spelling of “contryl” and “landscappe,” the poet writes in an “antiquated” syntax, inverting the sentence structure so the active agent (i.e. “she”) and her corresponding action (i.e. “did seek to carve”) occur, grammatically, at the end of the sentence. Readers find meta-poetic statements concerning the aberrant spelling and syntax throughout the text, whether it is “The letter was that which recommended sleep when once/ foreshadowed” (23) which “says nothing of the inscriptions” it bears (46), or how “the sentence must contrive to complete itself” (71) to the extent that it produces odd “dimensions we are travelling through” (36) that “may be dangerous” (19) because it seeks “to rewrite perplexity” (29). It seems as though the collection “is communicating with you in its own language and cannot be exactly translated” (70), but this does not mean that no attempt at translation is made; in fact, the third section, titled “Festoon Dictionary,” offers readers an oblique guide to what the collection’s words mean. In other words, it “attempts to speak aptly” (105) about the “promenade vocabulary” (102) that confronts the reader, but, of course, provides not more than “a series of slight rustling sounds” (104) that may, in the end, obfuscate more than elucidate.

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