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by Ben Doller
Ahsahta Press, $17.50 (paper)
It has been almost a decade since the pyrotechnic and youthful exuberance of Ben Doller’s (previously Doyle) debut collection Radio, Radio (2001)—a decade in which his showmanship has seasoned into a poetics of sustained and quizzical Aristotelian kinesis. As a reversal of Rilke’s famous advice for the nearly-anonymous Franz Kappus to “live the question,” Doller’s FAQ: arises out of the dismantling of inquiry. Here, one is presented with a sequence of unanchored, digressive answers to, presumably, “frequently asked questions”—only minus the frequently and sans the asked (the questions themselves are conspicuously absent). Thus, for the most part, the collection’s prose poems bear the title “FAQ:,” begin “Thank you for your question,” and then propel into a humorous exploration of pretty much anything but the useful information one might expect of an actual answer. While Doller’s masterful wackiness is still very much present (“A hysterical girl with white braids and freckle constellations gave me this tape of a thousand cowboys yodeling for a hundred and twenty even minutes—some kind of convention”), it is tempered by a direct and often tender intimacy (“Clearly, I is something you say a lot when you are away”). One begins to empathize with the speaker, as though these answers, even in their strangeness, address some unknown necessity. At its core the book is a critique of the information age, exposing the phenomenon of FAQs as a corporate catchall, an institutional code of etiquette couched as courteous advice and always carrying with it the ring of the voice of a committee. In this regard, Doller’s book is downright Kafkaesque, its satirical recycling of stocking-stuffer rhetorical patterns mirroring the inanity of rootless discourse: “My name is Jessica and I’m a roboholic.” Thinking outside the box is just about the squarest thing one can do (“Endless imagination is scourge, is bane”) but Doller does just that, resensitizing us to the potential richness, precision, and beauty of a language exhausted from work: “A few of us must bear more then the rest. I do not know which of us I am.”
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