Flood Editions, $14.95 (paper)
The cover of Jennifer Moxley’s latest collection of poems, Clampdown, is a stained red-and-white striped fabric. From a distance, the pattern evokes the striped field of a dirtied American flag. Upon closer inspection, however, ghoulish green lines appear within the white stripes, rendering the pattern no less American, but less patriotic—more a cousin to the “synthetic bedspread / hoary with sprouts of nylon thread” that Moxley describes in the book’s first poem. This bedspread’s “topography of occasional craters / formed by errant burning cherries / bespeaks the vintage of its dying surface.” Such confusion between the personal and the geographical, between the fabric of an ailing nation and the fabric of sleepless nights, is Moxley’s subject throughout this major work. In Clampdown Moxley explores how public travesties—the Bush presidency and the left’s attendant moral paralysis—stain and warp our personal relationships, transforming innocent comforts into menacing tokens of betrayal and complicity. The totems of Christmas in particular (“all bloated commerce”) are seen to be mere distractions that in no way heal the damage wrought on us or by us. At first entranced by this spectacle of excess, Moxley wakes to realize that we are “on the eve of some fortune / less propitious”; figurines on the Christmas tree, stirred by a passing truck, nod their heads in agreement. While many advocates of so-called experimental poetry will be comfortable with Moxley’s politics, what may confound readers are the poems’ seemingly retardataire effects—blatant symbolism, pathetic fallacy, a neo-Victorian diction, often within a lulling iambic meter, that renders sentiments unfashionably formal and sincere. It is as if Moxley, awake to the wages of empire, wants to suggest that style exerts its own tyranny. Perhaps, too, that the disjunctions and ironies of contemporary poetry have come to constitute a kind of doxa. For Moxley, the aesthetic is always political, most pointedly so when nakedly artificial.