Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014
Fitterman’s relentless, book-length new poem is composed of public articulations of loneliness harvested from online message boards. These many voices are synthesized into one by the confusion or collapse of identity evoked when every voice speaks in the first person. Perfectly clear expressions are buttressed together one after another, each one so sincere that they all become indistinct in a manner more familiar on the Internet than in the actual world, let alone lyrical poetry.
In No, Wait “I” becomes the avatar voice, which only exaggerates the feelings of insignificance that the source subjects invariably write about. As the paradoxically singular voice that speaks for every person here montaged together says, “I think I’m sad because I don’t / know what else to be or something. I don’t know, and / That’s the problem.” That problem creates a vacuum, and this book addresses how people articulate what happens or appears in that vacuum.
A despairing kind of personal nihilism is overtly expressed time and again, ranging in its self-consciousness from “My hobbies include: being sad and lonely / all the time and my interests / Consist of people I can’t have” to an expression of self-loathing more violent than even the recurring talk of suicide: “I feel like an abortion trapped inside a mannequin.” But a more epistemological kind of nihilism can be deduced from the will behind Fitterman’s work: Why doesn’t he exercise the poet’s artistic license to write something nicer as a reprieve from this reality, or a celebration of contemporary life’s pleasures? Fitterman’s work explores what poetry can mean in an age that Nietzsche foresaw in The Will to Power, one that has come to life since the inherent contradictions of modernism provoked the self-combustion of its truth claims: “That the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking; ‘why’ finds no answer.”
Putting a nihilistic worldview to creative use is nothing new, but Fitterman’s willingness to write from a subject position that performs its own interpolation by contemporary nihilism (like the values that “devalue themselves”), as opposed to his adopting a stance that pretends to find a distance from it (as with ironic poetry), is less common. For No, Wait he has run that productive will through the representational matrix of poetry. The poem’s formal structure, its epigraph, and depressive self-analysis are loosely borrowed from James Schuyler’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Morning of the Poem (1980). This disjunction of content and form produces something more unabashedly crafted (in a strong sense) than the cut-and-paste gestures of anti-imaginative appropriation.
The line breaks and indents on the page, rather than marking changes, only exacerbate the din, regulating its rhythm yet cutting short any chance of a change in storyline. Every stanza break just restarts the (insignificantly different) loop. But the real job of this form, as a container, is to point to a new context of reception for these posts, away from the peer-to-peer forum of the message board and to the over-determined field of poetic discourse. Fitterman isn’t just bringing the avatar voice offline, he’s nominating it as a poetic voice and what it says as poetry, whether anyone likes it or not. Such is the artist’s other license in an age of proliferation after the conceptual turn.
— Nick Thurston’s Of the Subcontract was published last summer.