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Powers Of Congress
(David R. Godine, 1990)

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Jacket Photo by Robert Turney

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Powers Of Congress
(Sarabande Books, 2001 reissue)

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Powers Of Congress

Excerpts from Reviews of Powers Of Congress

Sarabande Books reissue, 2001
David R. Godine, 1990

“She is an ambitious, powerful poet.... Her themes — like those of her great exemplar, Dickinson — are the sacred and the profane. But instead of seeking to define the profane by the sacred, as Dickinson often can, Fulton says ... how about using the profane to point toward the sacred? In the masterful title poem, ‘Powers Of Congress,’ she invites us to this paradox, detailing experiences of stress and force in the ironies of daily life.... There is a range of perspectives in her work and she deploys them well.... She is a thematic gambler of the best sort. Her poems are daring and broad.”

Eavan Boland
Partisan Review


“Her merest glance is catalytic, a vehicle for connection.... No one matches her ability to perform a kind of marginal sneak attack, a slipping-in of subject, substance, sound — to insinuate the unknown into the known, to fracture, fuse, repair.... Fulton is embarked on a project to redefine or recreate poetry according to the multiforms of experience and intellect, rather than to shape experience by modeling it on a received poetic vision. Powers of Congress is a rigorous, generous book, by one of the finest young poets in the country.”

David Baker


“Alice Fulton’s poetry — in Roland Barthe’s terms — is more ‘modern’ than ‘classical.’ Fulton intends to call attention to a poem’s language as a separate focus of perception. This requires that the reader ‘split’ his or her reaction to the poem’s language from the sense of what the poem — on the level of its discourse — may mean. ...You can't really get to the heart of Fulton’s poetry unless you figure out how she asks you to read her. ...Moreover, along with Howe, Palmer, and Yau, she believes that language — and aesthetic choices about language — essentially contain social meaning. Every Fulton poem exists within these tensions. The results amaze. Powers Of Congress is ... a broad-ranging, complex, large work of art. Come to Fulton’s poetry expecting pyrotechnically compressed thought, critically shaped emotions, and an assertively ambitious sense of poetry authority. Also expect a vision of American society — its technological, sexual, class, and religious relationships and contexts — embodied in language conscientiously intelligent and physical. Staking a challenging aesthetic territory between classical discourse and modernist fragmentation, Fulton has created a significant and innovative body of work.”

Lawrence Joseph


“Alice Fulton is a find: her third book, Powers Of Congress, is packed with poems whose charge and velocity are stunning, almost literally so. Her voice is readily identifiable as contemporary American, the cracks are wise and fast, the language ricocheting from the polysyllabically abstract to the sharp edges of an earthiness well accomodated to the thrust of a poem. She is an expert on the mad ordinariness of the suburbs, the ways in which women’s emotions can be moulded, and the chasm between us and whatever universe we can conceive of. In all the psychic and social turmoil of the world in a Fulton poem she reminds us that there is the ‘cascade of faith,’ an experiment, as the opening poem declares, but one worth making ... Whether the ‘you’ addressed is lover, God or reader, she argues for a ‘passional stance’ for the possibilities it offers even for the ‘infidel of amplitude’ ... Fulton is blessedly unpredictable and unconventional, and her real world is never treated only as an exercise in ‘realism.'”

Rodney Pybus
Stand (United Kingdom)


“There’s an air of recklessness that crackles through Alice Fulton’s poetry, an electric audacity that powers both her sound and her sense. ...Fulton transcribes what might admiringly be called a poetics of contemporary disquiet, jagged and jazzy wordcraft that simultaneously entertains bravado and doubt, irreverence and devotion. Powers of Congress boasts an expansiveness that marks a prismatic new stage in the poet’s sentimental education. These are poems that binge not just on language but on lexicons and argots, poems that lift their riffs not only from the deep wells of the American vernacular but from the streamlined vaults of newfangled technology and scientific determinism.... This makes for a hothouse poetry that’s more outlandish than ever — and often more exhilarating. Fulton’s marvelous ear gives her a kind of sonar for the contraries of the culture and the age ... She pours forth her own coloratura of impassioned eclecticism, and an intelligence that insists on being booklearned and streetsmart in practically the same breath. This infidel of amplitude already knew how to soar. In Powers Of Congress Alice Fulton shows she’s learned a thing or two about levitation.”

David Barber
Hungry Mind Review


“...Eerily distinctive ... the tonal colors effectively massed ... Fulton’s poems are in fact powerfully visual.... The sheer exuberance of visual play is nowhere clearer than in ... ‘Point of Purchase,’ which comes with its own set of marginal annotations by (and in) several different hands. Not since Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ has a long poem presented the reader with so remarkable an example of this particular phenomenon.... Fulton reinstates poetry as a social activity, a transactional dialogue among a community of writers and readers.... In language that is highly animated, frequently unconventional, and therefore memorable, Fulton brings together the ordinary and the extraordinary. The poems in Powers Of Congress are convincing in the earthy authenticity of their language and the entirely human experience which that language conveys.... They lead the reader away from preoccupation with the author (or even the narrators) and instead toward the shared experience that lies at the heart of human vitality. This is the sort of writing that will stay around, writing that matters.”

Stephen Behrendt
Prairie Schooner


“Fulton ... effortlessly runs the scales from lowest to highest levels of diction in a book where ‘heaven’ lies down with ‘veg’ and a philosophical poem transmutes the banal consumer-ese of its title. Powers Of Congress is a tour de force by a poet who continues to push the limits of understanding and expression.”

Joyce Peseroff

(full text of review at Ploughshares on line)


“Reading Powers Of Congress is an intense pleasure — not a small measure of which comes from seeing poetry used to see through, to see beyond our ‘ordered smallness’ to the great, unordered powers that have always been the real sources of poetry.”

Edward Falco
The Iowa Review


“ ‘Our Calling’ is a good example of the many ways in which Fulton has embodied her root metaphor in the book, the ‘powers of congress.’ In this poem there is a dialectical aesthetic at work, with the outcome unresolved in a new synthesis. Formally speaking, ‘Our Calling’ could be Fulton’s image of our cultural consciousness at this moment, the strains threatening to tear the meaning of the whole apart, and yet the whole (composed of differences) somehow and strangely surviving. In ‘A Diamond Solitaire,’ Fulton recalls a cousin who had become a nun, who had in family legend turned down a boy who had proposed with a diamond solitaire ring. The wonderful thing about this poem is the way it critiques the male-dominant holy orders, while at the same time evoking a certain admiration for the determination of the woman who embraced them. In her calling she had made herself into her own diamond solitaire. Despite its pessimisms, there is a faith at the center of this book, a faith in our human and humane ability to have a faith, to keep a faith in and with one another. Human beings are the site where the energies convene. If anybody ‘flares without a cause it might as well be // Us as God,’ she writes in ‘The Gilt Cymbal Behind Saints.’ Fulton goes on to end this poem in words which can sum up the central insight of this wonderful book of poetry: ‘...We hold sway: the cold and warm / Specks in the touch, the go, the form reform.’ We hold in our hands, in other words, whatever powers of meaningful congress there may ever be.”

Fred Marchant
Harvard Review


“Energy ... is the first word that comes to mind. Her lines have reams of it, in a physical and metaphysical sense. Themes are centered around the everyday juggled with the transcendental. Fulton’s voice comes through as that of a skydiver — taking physical risks with words and forms, but invariably landing on her feet. ... I recommend this book to anyone ... who appreciates a poet with chutzpah.”

Joyce Walters
Poetry Review (United Kingdom)


“In this third collection, Powers Of Congress, her language rushes, charged with electricity, and almost etherealizes itself. ...the excitement comes from her use of words extract, extrude, embroider into fantastic possibilities. She works like Rumpelstiltskin, spinning her words into gold. ...I am a Fulton fan and thus interested in everything about her, including her fingernail clippings, her bedroom slippers, and what she thinks about when she eats asparagus ... Fulton’s poems, like stars, are events or ‘presence’ which require some bigger kinesthetic response. Highly recommended.”

Diane Wakoski
The Women’s Review of Books


“Fulton is remarkable in the way she pulls disparate scenes and random actions together so that every seemingly disjointed detail adds finally to the whole. Fulton mixes abstractions with the concrete ... yet she never loses track of where she’s going, and she makes sure that we are with her when she gets to the end and pulls the poem together. The closures here are sure and always seem effortless. These poems have a remarkable grace. Beauty of language, in Fulton’s case, cannot be equated with complacency. We come away realizing that Fulton is highly critical of the way our world operates and she succeeds in making her points ... with humor and with an understanding of what it is to be human ... Finally, to read Fulton is to become reacquainted with the English language — its sophistication, not for the sake of sophisticated language itself, but for its expressive qualities. I believe Fulton’s approach to the universe is very like her writing style: an act of faith.”

Sandra Witt
Iowa Woman


“Alice Fulton’s language — and her world — is on fire with potentiality. Whether a monologue of soldiers at Normandy or childhood and family memories, the agitated surfaces of these poems are saturated with philosophical effervescence. Event becomes its illumination. How the mind interprets experience (‘a contact, a way of seeing’) is Fulton’s point — and the reader’s. She probes the relationship of viewer to what is seen, values of appearance with their dazzle as opposed to reality with its transience, the relationship of ‘the stuff of sump and dumpster’ to the brain’s ‘Byzantine cathedral.’ Faith’s ‘cascade’ is the transformation of the world by imaginative energies.... To read Fulton’s poetry is to welcome that cascade.”

Frank Allen
Poet Lore