Review: FAQ: by Ben Doller


faq-coverPoet Ben Doller has all the answers.

The questions are a different matter.

Doller’s poetry collection, FAQ:, from Ahsahta Press, features fifty-one “answers” to unknown questions. Each poem, titled “FAQ:,” begins with the line “Thank you for your question,” but the question hangs in the air unknown—and sometimes, based on Doller’s answers, unknowable.

“I can’t trust myself all night with this question,” Doller writes.

Doller’s answers aren’t tidy, either. The poems are more like quests for answers than answers themselves. They feel fragmented, but intentionally so. It’s as if the unnamed question-asker asks for clarity, but in a world of confusion, clear answers are impossible. They are too much to expect.

But Doller’s poems contain bursts of brilliant clarity that come in the midst of the searching. Doller doesn’t use his poems to catch clear snapshots of a particular moment; instead, his snapshots come in phrases, like moments of elucidation: A stunt cyclist seeks “To bludgeon gravity with speed.” A narrator laments that “Endless imagination is scourge, is bane, bare, self-immolient and spark, is accepting your invitation to, to take it to nowhere, notime….”

Clarity bogs down into confusion, but with Doller, the confusion comes across as artful. “A cliché, forced patiently, violently enough through tortuous enough a tube may become something solid again. Maybe a saying,” Doller writes. “So I have tried to impel it through these wires to you, you know that I need some of you to set the alarm clock, to increasingly sing in chorus with whatever oldie crows that the day should be beginning that the day should be beginning….”

Confusion sometimes breaks further down into chaos, but once there, Doller can find more clarity. For instance, he writes: “It’s just not my job to make the earth again, to celebrate my astonishment at the leaf as it all goes wrong leaf by leaf…”

Confusion doesn’t always equate to gloom, though. Doller finds humor, too. “Performing a word-find in the arrivals area: just one example of admirable behavior,” writes a traveler in one poem. “I can’t recall now why I was in the arrivals area. It’s a secret.”

Most of the poems look like short paragraphs in a helpful little manual. The two most notable exceptions, the collection’s only named poems, “Daisy” and “Same Problem,” stand out because of their couplet structure.

FAQ: fits perfectly as the twenty-seventh volume in Ahsahta Press’s “New Series” of innovative poetry collections. As with other volumes in the series, FAQ: will challenge a reader’s ideas about what is and isn’t poetry, both in form and content. The poems in Doller’s collection fulfill a similar function: The rumination is as important as the answer.

2 replies »

  1. I’m always looking for new poetry. Thanks for pointing me in this direction.