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Alice Fulton

1952–

Alice Fulton was born and raised in Troy, New York. She received a BA from Empire State College in 1978 and an MFA from Cornell University in 1982.

Her books of poetry include Barely Composed (W. W. Norton, 2015); Felt (W. W. Norton, 2002), which was awarded the 2002 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award; Palladium (University of Illinois Press, 1986), which received the 1985 National Poetry Series and the 1987 Society of Midland Authors Award; and Dance Script with Electric Ballerina (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), which received the 1982 Associated Writing Programs Award. She is also the author of a collection of short stories, The Nightingales of Troy (W. W. Norton, 2008), and a collection of prose, Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry (Graywolf Press, 1999). Her work has been included in five editions of The Best American Poetry series and in the The Best of the Best American Poetry, 1988-1997.

Fulton’s work has been adapted several times for musical and theatrical productions. Anthony Cornicello’s ...turns and turns into the night, a setting of four poems from Sensual Math, premiered at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The 2003 World Premiere of Enid Sutherland’s complete setting of “Give: A Sequence Reimagining Daphne & Apollo” took place at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan. William Bolcom’s setting of “How To Swing Those Obbligatos Around” was first performed  by Marilyn Horne at Carnegie Hall’s Centennial Celebration. Turbulence: A Romance, a song cycle with music by William Bolcom and words by Alice Fulton, debuted at the Walker Art Center.

She is the recipient of an American Academy of arts and Letters Award in Literature and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Michigan Society of Fellows, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. She is currently the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Barely Composed (W. W. Norton, 2015)
Cascade Experiment: Selected Poems (W.W. Norton, 2004)
Felt (W. W. Norton, 2002)
Sensual Math (W. W. Norton, 1995)
Powers Of Congress (Godine, 1990; Sarabande Books, 2001)
Palladium (University of Illinois, 1986)
Dance Script With Electric Ballerina (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983) 

Prose
The Nightingales of Troy (W. W. Norton, 2008)
Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry (Graywolf Press, 1999)

Alice Fulton
Photo credit: Hank De Leo

By This Poet

3

About Face

Because life's too short to blush,
I keep my blood tucked in.
I won't be mortified
by what I drive or the flaccid
vivacity of my last dinner party.
I take my cue from statues posing only
in their shoulder pads of snow: all January
you can see them working on their granite tans.

That I woke at an ungainly hour,
stripped of the merchandise that clothed me,
distilled to pure suchness,
means not enough to anyone for me
to confess.  I do not suffer
from the excess of taste
that spells embarrassment:
mothers who find their kids unseemly
in their condom earrings,
girls cringing to think
they could be frumpish as their mothers.
Though the late nonerotic Elvis
in his studded gut of jumpsuit
made everybody squeamish, I admit.
Rule one: the King must not elicit pity.

Was the audience afraid of being tainted
--this might rub off on me--
or were they--surrendering--
what a femme word--feeling
solicitous--glimpsing their fragility
in his reversible purples
and unwholesome goldish chains?

At least embarrassment is not an imitation.
It's intimacy for beginners,
the orgasm no one cares to fake.
I almost admire it.  I almost wrote despise.

Roar Shack

Many see a flutterby when they look into this

omniscience I see as a skinniness too densely drawn
or a mystery unhinged by its own symmetry, a twinning
I think of as a listener that thinks along
with me, fused in a tweed, a red herring-
bone weave in the dazzling darkness
and bleached afterness some see

as a necklace of brilliants curved in gift. As if!

A color visible only in ultra-
violet light or a source beyond mathematics I think
of as a second self, an underhum. Or thought. Till I saw
innocence tortured by a force
beyond kindness, an unconditional indifference

or wick for wickedness that wanted trauma dolls.

I tell this as a clock tells time but telling can’t diminish it

as clocks can’t dwindle time. Am I still alive?
Birds that sing behind a waterfall, horses kneeling
Christmas Eve are what others see in what I see
as us delivered up to this chill that searches me.

Doha Thing Long Thought and Kind

A gift is a risk. Let roses be the prodrome.
It’s like it dropped a gold and a silver

ring with its name on it
in my brain. That was the gift

before the storm. It sent you a stumbling
block. Just scribble yes or no

on the form. Now every time the doorbell
rings I think someone’s sent me one.

A gift is a guess. Did it come close?
It’s what you need most

that turns you nerve side out. Right
now I think I’m growing something

long thought and kind of
clumsy. Just wrap it in drafts with awk

in the margins. Stuff it
in a wooden pillow with a drawer.

A gift is a task. It could be oxblood
or puce. You have to decide

whether to send those flowers that drop
whole from the stem or

the ones whose petals fall one
by one. You know how rain will

turn the roses nerve side out?
A gift is a test. They need to know that.

When she wrote their thorns
are the best part of them I can’t begin

to tell you how many kinds of
right she was. Now I think I’m growing

something long thought
to be the prerogative of certain

entitled individuals. Wings
or thorns. When all I wanted was

a more subtle pulse
at the throat bone. Well what size

do you wear? I am smelting you a surprise.
Not another luminous lyre

cum lint remover. Take it
from me. If you depend on gifts

for what you need you’ll end up with
a gold and a silver shoe both

for the same lame foot.

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