Poet and writer Alice Fulton was born in 1952 and raised in Troy, New York. Fulton’s poetry is known for its innovative approach to line and language, as well as the variety and depth of its content. Scholar Cristanne Miller has noted that while “strikingly flexible in their diction and manner, Fulton’s poems include an extraordinary range of topics, perspectives, and voices.” Miller went on to describe Fulton’s idiosyncratic style: “While the diction of Fulton’s poems often includes puns and slang, the topics are deeply serious. The poems are epistemological in their concerns: what is it possible to know? how does scientific knowledge affect the perceptions of common sense? how do the powers of language relate to media culture, scientific discovery, imperialism, gender, and the petty inhumanity or graciousness of everyday feelings and events? At the same time, the poems are generous, reminding us through the experimental complexity of their forms and language that we are not just ‘towers / of blood and ignorance.’”
Fulton has written extensively on poetics, including in Feeling as a Foreign Language, where she elaborates on her idea of “fractal poetics,” as well as her use of the “double equal sign,” a punctuation mark she began using in Sensual Math.
I mean the more myself I
become the less intelligible I seem to otters.
I know what you mean you said.
It’s like the time I was compelled to speak
on hedonism to the monks and nuns.
Did I say most religion is devotional
expediency? Or religion doesn’t worry about being
religious, its wisdom corrupted by its brilliance as light
passing near the sun is deflected
in its path. Deep in its caprices,
the whole body thinks it’s understood.
To think otterwise is isolating.
(from ‘Wow Moment’)
In an interview in Memorious, Fulton elaborated on both ideas: “A fractal poem might splice a complex, dense passage to a flat or transparent line,” she told Les Kay. “The friction between the two registers of diction can create an uncanny dissonance. In this way, didactic lines can be part of a larger oblique structure. The context, the surrounding dictions and tones, changes the transparent lines, which in turn affect the denser lines . . . These transparent, potentially cheesy lines are embedded in a structure that includes other, more demanding sorts of language – lyrical, technical, satirical. A fractal poem sets plain language in a linguistic surround that skews – and charges – the plainness.” Of her use of the double equal sign, she said: “I also was interested in devising a punctuation mark that could have content without having a firm denotation or definition. And I thought the sign could signal syntactical deletion. That aspect was suggested by Dickinson. In one poem, I called the sign ‘dash to the max,’ ‘dash to the second power – because it’ a double equal.’ Then, too, I was influenced by A.R. Ammons’s use of the colon. Ammons didn’t devise a new punctuation mark, but his poems are riddled with colons that become more than punctuation marks. He forces you to interpret the colon.”
(from ‘Daynight, With Mountains Tied Inside’)
Fulton is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Dance Script with Electric Ballerina (1982), which won an Associated Writing Programs Award; Palladium (1986), winner of the National Poetry Series; Powers of Congress (1990; reissued 2001); Sensual Math (1995); Felt: Poems (2001), winner of the Bobbitt Poetry Prize from the Library of Congress; and Cascade Experiment: Selected Poems (2004). She has also published a book of essays, Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry (1999), and a collection of linked short stories, The Nightingales of Troy (2008). Two stories from the work were included in the Best American Short Stories series, and a third received a Pushcart Prize. Fulton’s poems have also been set to music by contemporary composers such as Anthony Cornicello, William Bolcom, and Enid Sutherland; the pieces have premiered in spaces such as the Guggenheim Museum, Carnegie Hall, and the Walker Arts Center.
Fulton has received many honors and awards for her work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Michigan Society of Fellows, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. In 2011 she received the Literature Award from the Academy of American Arts and Letters “to honor exceptional accomplishment.” She is the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University.
Cascade Experiment: Selected Poems, W.W. Norton, New York, NY, 2004
Felt: Poems, W.W. Norton, New York, NY, 2001
Sensual Math, W.W. Norton, New York, NY 1995
Powers of Congress, David Godine, Boston, MA, 1990; reissued by Sarabande Books, Louisville, KY, 2001
Palladium, University of Illinois Press. Urbana, IL, 1986
Dance Script with Electric Ballerina, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1983
Anchors of Light, Swamp Press, Oneonta, NY, 1979
The Nightingales of Troy: Stories of One Family’s Century, W.W. Norton, New York, NY, 2008
Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry, Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1999
Alice Fulton’s website
Memorious: Interview with Alice Fulton by Les Kay
NewYorker.com, Our Poets on their Poetry: Alice Fulton
PoetryFoundation.org, Poem of the Day: ‘What I Like’ read by Shawna Monson