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Lit Talk

Demystification, Erosion, and Vigilance: J. Bruce Fuller’s The Dissenter’s Ground

Shawna Caro

         Poet, publisher, and Louisiana native J. Bruce Fuller holds powers of perception that are subtle and unflagging. The helmsman of Yellow Flag Press, Fuller has brought several celebrated collections into the world, such as If You Abandon Me by Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque and Lauren Gorden’s mellifluous chapbook Generalizations About Spines. As a poet, Fuller’s work is consistently crisp and hard hitting—his chapbook Flood received the 2013 Swan Scythe Press Chapbook Award, and several others have been similarly lauded. In the just-released chap The Dissenter’s Ground, Fuller is again at his analytical best, discussing religion and erosion of both landscape and belief at William Blake’s grave. In one memorable moment, Fuller notes how his world has slowly become demystified: “When the sun sets on Rutherford Beach . . . / the oil rigs / on the horizon no longer remind me of God” (Cameron Parish, Louisiana… 2). The conversation with “William” continues throughout the chapbook’s entirety, threading these poems together and harkening to a larger poetic legacy.

            The opening epigraph to The Dissenter’s Ground provides a glimpse into the collection’s motivations: how to mitigate an erosion of landscape and perhaps belief, but also how to preserve life and integrity. Here Fuller gives space to Blake’s own poetry, writing, “Dip him in the river who loves water . . . Expect poison from the standing water.” Presaging the sometimes dark concerns further in, this quote is an important reminder to remain fully conscious of our actions, as they impact more than we assume.

            Later in the chap, Fuller contemplates the fate of his native state, noting that “in fifty years / the sea level will rise . . . and this soupy ground / will be sea bed again” (3). An important observation for a coastal reason, Fuller’s concern also carries the implication that as life has become demystified, perhaps the world’s ruling forces (deities, physics, and so on) hold less sway or interest over the world. A careful balance has been upset, this chapbook muses. The condensed, direct form and tone of these poems also suggests terseness or tension, perhaps related to this theological unease. Most poems here hover around twelve lines or fewer in length, making each word shoulder significant gravity for its poem’s overall meaning. As the clock runs down on Fuller’s Louisiana, words evoke notions of renting, rather than mastering, space: “We live on borrowed land, / Delta mud laid thick / by flood after flood . . . / We will take drowning too far” (4).

            Toward the end of this collection, Fuller notes an important distinction between his home and other parts of the world—prayer is selective, for fear of a wish going badly awry. When he asserts that “Around here, we don’t pray for rain” (6), we become aware of how deadly a blessing like water can become, sanding away the familiar to reveal a palimpsest of unexpected fortunes. While aware of its blessings, Fuller knows how delicate the balance of his world can be. “Farther and farther this doubt echoes,” he acknowledges, but it seems he has found a way to circumvent that lack of knowing, with “palms open” for whatever may come (8).

            All of this compact content is informed well by this chapbook’s measured, sleek design. Margaret Bashaar, editor and publisher of Hyacinth Girl Press, constructs high-quality chapbooks with highly allusive or satisfyingly referential covers designed by Sarah Reck—The Dissenter’s Ground features a foreboding oil rig shrouded in offshore mist. An ivory ribbon binds the book together, both providing an elegant aesthetic and referencing the purity of belief with which Fuller wrestles in these pages. These poems wield powerful observations and affirmations, and through them Fuller, a “born dissenter,” stays alert in our blessed world “forged in heat” (7).

            Readers can purchase The Dissenter’s Ground at one of J. Bruce Fuller’s many readings, or from Hyacinth Girl Press.

Fuller, J. Bruce. The Dissenter’s Ground. (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2017. 11 pages, ribbon-bound: $6.00.)

This review was written by Tyler Sheldon, Kansas poet and regular contributor to The Tin Lunchbox.