Alice Fulton

Called “Dickinson’s postmodern heir” by Publisher’s Weekly, Alice Fulton‘s lively, distinctive style and buoyant faith are most evident in her numerous books of poems, including Sensual Math (1995); Powers of Congress (1990); Palladium, winner of the 1985 National Poetry Series and the 1987 Society of Midland Authors Award; and Dance Script with Electric Ballerina (1982; reissue 1996), winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award.

Her work, as American Literature put it, “stretches the linguistic, tonal, vocal, and emotional range of contemporary lyric”. Through her poems. Fulton explores the interplay of divine mystery and scientific fact without sacrificing emotional richness.

Characterized by the New Yorker as “electrifying” and “deeply moving”, her poems have been includedin five editions of the Best American Poetry Series, and has appeared in Poetry, Parnassus, The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and many other magazines. She has received numerous awards for her poetry, including the Pushcart Prize and the Emily Dickinson and Consuelo Ford Awards from the Poetry Society of America.

Fulton has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Michigan Society of Fellows an the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is currently Professor of English at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Poetry Center Reading:
Spring 1999

Fierce Girl Playing Hopscotch

You sway like a crane to the tunes of tossed stones.

I am what you made to live in

from what you had: hair matted as kelp, bad schools.

Oh, you will never know me. I wave and you go

on playing in the clouds

boys clap from erasers. I am the pebble

you tossed on the chalked space and war-

danced toward, on-leg two-leg, arms treading air.

In this, your future, waves rechristen the sea

after its tiny jeweled lives

that hiss “Us Us” to the shore all day.

Where’s the kid called Kateydid? the moonfaced

Kewpiedoll? The excitable pouting

Zookie? The somber O-Be-Joyful?

Lost girl, playing hopscotch, I will do what you could.

Name of father, son, ghost. Cross my heart and hope.

While the sea’s jewels build shells and shells

change to chalk and chalk to loam and gold

wheat grows where oceans teetered.

From THE PALLADIUM (The University of Illinois Press, 1986)

Industrial Lace

The city had such pretty clotheslines.

Women aired their intimate apparel

in the emery haze:

membranes of lingerie-

pearl, ruby, copper slips-

their somehow intestinal quivering in the wind.

And Freihofer’s spread the chaste, apron scent

of baking, a sensual net

over a few yards of North Troy.

The city had Niagara

Mohawk bearing down with power and light

and members of the Local

shifting on the line.

They worked on fabrics made from wood and acid,

synthetics that won’t vent.

They pieced the tropics into housecoats

when big prints were the rage.

Dacron gardens twisted on the line

over lots of Queen Anne’s lace.

Sackdresses dyed the sun

as sun passed through, making a brash stained glass

against the leading of the tenements,

the warehouse holding medical supplies.

I waited for my bus by that window of trusses

in Caucasian beige, trying to forget

the pathological inside.

I was thinking of being alive.

I was waiting to open

the amber envelopes of mail at home.

Just as food service workers, counter women,

maybe my Aunt Fran, waited to undo

their perms from the delicate insect meshes

required by The Board of Health.

Aunt Alice wasn’t on this route.

She made brushes and plastics at Tek Hughes-

mild crates of orange

industrial lace

the cartons could drip through.

Once we boarded, the girls from Behr-Manning

put their veins up

and sawed their nails to dust

on files from the plant.

All day, they made abrasives. Garnet paper.

Yes, and rags covered with crushed gems called

garnet cloth.

It was dusk-when aunts and mothers formed

their larval curls

and wrapped their heads in thick brown webs.

It was yesterday-twenty years after

my father’s death,

I found something he had kept.

A packet of lightning-

cut sanding discs, still sealed.

I guess he meant to open the finish,

strip the paint stalled on some grain

and groom the primal gold.

The discs are the rough size

of those cookies the franchises call Homestyle

and label Best Before.

The old cellophane was tough.

But I ripped until I touched

their harsh done crust.

From SENSUAL MATH (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)

The Priming is a Negligee

between the oils and canvas. Stroke the white

sheath well into the weave. The canvas

needs more veil. The painting

should float on skins of lead

white coating-or its oils will wither

the linen they touch, its colors gnaw

at cloth until the image hangs on air.

The canvas needs more veil.

The body takes its own shade

with it everywhere. There are true gessoes

flesh will accept: blocks and screens

to keep the sun just out of reach. Creams

white as styrofoam but less

perpetual, vanishing like varnish

once they’re crammed between the cells.

So skin is sheltered

by transparencies, iced

with positive shadows. Sunshade.

The nihilist is light.

Printers know it’s the leading

between lines that lets them be

swaddled in the rag of stanzas.

How close the letters huddle

without rubbing. For immersion see

“passion between.” See

opposite of serene. For synonym and homonym

see “rapt” and “wrapped.”

There is a gown-that breathes-

and a gown-that heats. One to hold,

One to release. Watch

the lead white camisole go up

in arms and hair and skin.

That on flings it like a shiny jelly

to the floor. With beautiful frugality, go

the solid cotton briefs.

The lovers get so excited

to think-nothing comes between them.

There is nothing between them.

That’s how they can consume each other,

sand each other sore.

The oils are suspended

on a leading. The lovers

touch in linen walls.

From SENSUAL MATH (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)