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Amy King Antidotes for an Alibi

Blaze VOX Books, ISBN # 097592275-0

Buffalo, New York

There are poets that sing and poets that see. Amy King is a poet of sight. Throughout her first (published) collection, Antidotes for an Alibi, the subject matter oscillates; however, the language of sight is always emphasized. If the role of art, if not poetry, is to teach us a new way to see within, then these poems, especially under the lens of the domestic, are remarkable. There is an inherent danger in proclaiming that a female poet is wonderful in the home, however, to omit King’s abilities to analyze domestic situations for the sake of safety would be a horrendous disservice. King is willing to take on this very same risk as she opts to gaze at the power relations of and within language, and domesticated language, poetic form and yes, within the family unit. (Do not let ‘unit’ mislead—these are not Rockwell portraits.)

The collection’s second poem, A Domestic Film, is one of the poems that encapsulates King’s undertaking at its best. Beginning, “This is the director’s cut”, King anchors the reader into the easiest and most clear understanding of the poem’s title. The stanza ends with a cinematic, if not feminine, image, “… I watch the brittle flower spread, / almost mobile with her walking petal plans—“ only to have the next stanza begin aware of the semantic weight of the image, as if in the synaptic jump from stanza to stanza something changed, the literal biological charge inherent in synapses becomes an exposed raw nerve, “Feminine form to feminine prone”. The poem continues on this gendered path leading to the ending where King demonstrates with intelligence a marvelous double-movement:

the unmarried wife waving goodbye

to the silent screen world of strangers

safely baking on Dishwater Island.

Through the domesticity of the situation, and our immediate understanding of it, King refers to forms of culture that pre-date the poet, namely ‘silent screen.’ The use of outmoded visual genres is reminiscent of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, though with a different social context. Further, and at this point obviously, the switch from the domestic film from the first stanza to the idea of a domestic film of an unmarried wife (clearly another example of the actress, or is it actor, playing a role) ‘safely baking on Dishwater Island’ is revealed. Also, with ‘Dishwater Island’ we are directed to ‘Treasure Island’, another out-dated piece of culture, yet beyond that lies the ‘film’ left behind by soaps. And it is with this smallest allusion to what commercials for detergents are still discussing today (“Cascade leaves glasses spotless”) that King is able to demonstrate that through our viewing of images, no matter how old, or when they are viewed, leave upon the viewer an explicit film.

Editing Booth again, has a title that is anchored in film and begins, “Give unto feet their water; watch / people savor their features on film.” So much is crammed into these lines, indeed the poem, and the language reflects this through the water (narcissism and surface tension) and then moves into the space of writing, “My lyrics before death were written / on parchment long ago.” However, as the poem continues, the clean spaces of film, water and sight on one hand, and writing, lyrics and parchment become blurred, or rather stirred.

. . . It’s time to

undo this rodeo town: suck the glue from

my road, erase the lawn in my garden,

The ‘undoing’ of the ‘rodeo town’ is reminiscent of spaghetti westerns and cardboard cut-out Hollywood sets, but also the removal of the glue from book binding. The erasure of both containers (film sets and codex) causes a mess in the well manicured garden as leaves blow forgotten or scattered but only after, unless it is illusory, “the bait mistaken for luck” has been created and sent out as King then lists three sets of allusions; Camus and Kafka, Kundera and Haushofer, Cassandra and ‘her mother Wolf.’

The mixture that King is creating in this poem continues, “I mix it with dough as bread for the masses.” Immediately this gesture is met with a hostility as there is no savior to incorporate such a metaphysical gesture. Things continue to become mixed, “People speak in hybrid tongues.” Finally, as this mass continues to change physical form, their metaphysical goal is accomplished as “. . . we each become electrical / timings in the bioluminescent show.” In these final few lines, then, King has bodies become other, only to become electric waves of light. That is, in this poem’s editing booth the celluloid becomes cellulose, a sugar burned for energy.

The other poems in King’s Antidotes for an Alibi exist on the same aesthetic plane, but are varied. Indeed, one can safely say these poems vibrate, or twitch, like atoms approaching Absolute Zero. Simply put, Amy King has achieved a reliable poetic voice in her first collection. A voice with which she is certain without being overbearing—always willing to question itself, but not ashamed of its observations.