Review: B.K. Fischer’s “Mutiny Gallery”

“Mutiny Gallery” B.K. Fischer
(Winner of the 2011 T.S. Eliot Prize)
Truman State University Press, 2011, $18.00

B.K. Fischer's "Mutiny Gallery"

B.K. Fischer’s Mutiny Gallery, a novel in verse, is an act of earnest imagination. In a period when much poetry is thin- I biography, it is refreshing to come to a first book that is provocatively metaphoric and hearty… and with a personae, one surmises, set apart from the author. The premise of the book is rather simple: a mother and her son are escaping — fleeing “domestic peril.” –– and, in so doing, are engaged in a U.S. cross-country road trip. Tanks of gas are burned; bridges are burned –– and unintentionally preserved; nightmare museums are the temporary stops. What emerges in the deeper kinetic landscape of the novel is not so simple:

Dreams she is naked with a lover but can’t
find a place to be alone––a hotel room laden
with noisy sleepers, a sliding door opening

at an intersection, a wall dissolving into
a department store where she crouches
among the racks, grabbing something…

She lights a cigarette, her first since
she snuffed out her sworn last
by the wheel of his stroller outside

a bodega in November 2001…

Surely a seedy love scene is coming up,
a cheap fling, except she is traveling
with a chaperone too young to leave.

She fingers a key ring, only free
to take a peep, a body broken down
into boxes: ridge of a foot, glans.

(“Exotic World Burlesque Museum”)

There are passages of disintegration; and passages of assemblage. Intimacy seems to collapse down to sleepy arms wrapped around a sleepy neck. New zones of risk have to be navigated. Even without the father’s violence, there were intrinsic problems in the original landscape:

…Take your chances with the big city, take
this ticket out of Gambrills, where all there is, is a divided

highway with a median-strip Taco Bell and a sand quarry….

She wanted to talk about kitsch and the str(i/u)ctures of faith,…

but her advisor leveled his gaze at her chest throughout the defense.

Too bad about those other girls, such promise but they turned out
to be bourgeois opt-out suburbanite incubators come home

to roost and lost their edge. That won’t happen to you, will it?

(“Museum of Bad Art”)

There are also intriguing passages of description; often in what, in any other situation, might pass as nonchalant aside. There is nothing nonchalant in Mutiny Gallery:

Claire is the only one in the museum. Max has run off to the
bottom of a hill to poke around in some rocks. A rotating fan
pushes a cabin smell across and past her, across and past.
Folding chairs stacked against one wall suggest that perhaps
the room is still used for a congregation or at least a group.

(“Church of One Tree”)

There are poignant poems about being dogged by poverty, living near the edge, ever on the go. The aromas are odd mixtures of where the two travelers are, where they have been. Time moves forward and backward. Snippets of memories, moments of panic, innutritious snacks, and serendipitous flashes of graffiti fill the voids where more meaningful textures and continuities are missing. There are simply wisps of race, faith, class, and cultural identity. Lost and Found become unclear designations. A peacock, popcorn bucket, mosaics made from torn bits embroider the day’s tapestry:

At natural Bridge, he…
trotted down sixty steps before the ticket-taker
sent him back up, short by $7 to see the arch.

He thinks about
the Alamo and what would have happened had it
never been avenged. No state of Texas, the USA
a thinner-bellied creature with Louisiana and Florida
at its two front paws.

(“Killing Time Museum”)

Besides the emotional spaces that are opened and collapsed, the poems are carefully lined and well made. Metaphors are thoughtfully introduced, listed, returned to for development. Fischer is masterful with pacing, ruthless, and skilled.

She is tired.
Paid it all: tuition, dues, tolls.
Where the hell’s
the deus ex machina?

(“American Precision Museum”)

Mutiny Gallery, is so worth the read, and leaves us looking
forward to more from B.K. Fischer.

Scott Hightower is the author of three books. This fall, Self-Evident, his fourth collection stateside, is forthcoming from Barrow Street Press. Early next year, Oases/Hontanares, a bi-lingual book, is forthcoming from Devenir, Madrid. Hightower teaches as adjunct faculty at NYU and Drew University. A native of central Texas, he lives in Manhattan and sojourns in Spain.