I never met Lawrence Fixel. Yet I did hear about him. I was living with poet Christina Fisher at the time she took over from Sharon Coleman as an assistant helping him prepare his archive for perpetuity in the late 1990s. Along with Coleman, we were both graduate students in Poetics at New College of California. His home always sounded lovely, set up on the hills above The Haight in San Francisco, which he shared with his wife Justine and the rancorous parrots who visited outside the windows of his book-lined study. The ultimate poet’s life it seemed. Although I was taking classes with the incredibly minded, now gone poets Tom Clark, Joanne Kyger, and David Meltzer it was always intriguing, if a bit puzzling at times, to hear Christina speak about her afternoon hours spent at the Fixel house. As often occurs in such situations, it always sounded is if their meetings tended more towards being an ongoing never-ending conversation regarding the poetics of his work rather than the business of archiving.
His person, as did his work, always sounded utterly hermetic. Nearly impenetrable. Yes, he knew and was friendly with Carl Rakosi, and had been likewise familiar with Rakosi’s fellow Objectivist poet George Oppen (both heady fascinations of mine still developing at the time) yet his own writing appeared to be entirely devoted to prose—and not just the prose poem, but the parable! Of all things! This did nothing to make his work more in tune with where my twentysomething head was at the time. Only increasing the challenge: while I started to read his work, whatever Christina had at hand, even with her weekly visits, which amounted to only a book or two of his during the year or so we lived together. Quite possibly one or more of those came from New College’s library rather than from Fixel himself. In fact, I am not at all sure Fixel ever gave her a book of his. He appears never to have cared for such affairs as handing out one’s own work. He would prefer having those who are interested seek it out on their own in due time. Yet the fact is many of Fixel’s books have never been easy to come across while browsing used bookstores, even in San Francisco.
The Collected Poetry and Prose of Lawrence Fixel is therefore a profound occasion—even if, as I suspect, far too few poetry readers will pay it much notice. Fixel is a poet who never courted the lime light, focusing instead entirely upon developing his writing. Nothing else, in terms of the imagination at least, mattered. Within his creative endeavors, he always strived for a purity he continually worked towards better crystalizing. Even late in life, when Christina knew him, he kept refining his thinking as he returned repeatedly to discussing his past work. He of course held little regard for broad recognition and/or literary reward/acknowledgement. Again, nothing mattered to him but the work. Fixel’s efforts demonstrate his focused awareness upon the work as genuine artifact. A poetry oriented utterly inward upon The Poem above all else. The Collected serves ready testament to his devotion to writing—he was ever the poet he recognized himself as being.
Editor Gerald Fleming, always referred to as “Jerry” by Christina, has brought together all of Fixel’s often fairly obscure small press publications along with a sizable portion of his uncollected work. He also contributes a rigorous introduction outlining the parameters of the collection and giving a biographical sketch of Fixel. Fleming’s reflections come complimented by a number of personal recollections by devoted friends and allies of Fixel, both Christina and Sharon Coleman numbering among them. As Fleming makes quite clear, the editing he has accomplished has been collective in nature. It was a heavy lift, however the result is as generous a tribute, as well as lasting presentation of his work, as could be asked for. Allowing, as it does, as fully a complete perspective of the work overall along with a composite portrait of Fixel as mentor and friend.
Fixel’s work demonstrates a consummate poetic mastery and interest in self-reflection. As when he describes his The Book of Glimmers:
Glimmers are glimmers: connections are made and connections fail. Something rises to the surface; something gets away. I summon a word, an image; for a moment I feel its presence—almost within reach—and as quickly it is gone. No point in asking: where from, where to? I can only try to be alert, attentive for the next “member of the throng” that comes this way. (291)
He approaches writing as the means for and the embodiment of working through complex thought structures confronting paradoxical dilemmas of existence. I am never 100% sure enough of him that I completely buy into his apparent removal of self-interest in every piece, yet I am continually admiring his consistent ability to assert an indifference of sorts as to where/why/how events covered by the writing occurred. Just who is Lawrence Fixel is a question his writing, rather joyously, resists addressing; or, perhaps restated a bit better, it is the exact enigma that the writing coalesces around without seeking to explain anything. What I have found is that it does not matter. Fixel’s poems are relentlessly nothing other than exactly what he strived them to be, as clear and concise as possible. His body of work matters because it is not popular, it is not ‘of our time’ yet it is decidedly accomplished.
While Fixel’s place is most secure as a vital attendant to the prose poem, I was intrigued to come across the broken line verse included here as well. These show Fixel’s capabilities for baring down with precision of startling clarity:
Along these ways to a place where shadow
performs in tandem with light falling
into a space we have not touched or sculpted—
where the child disappears in the white dust
of summer, where the solemn meadow
is suddenly defiled by the dubious presence of one
who answers to no known image or given name . . .
(“Along These Ways” 518)
Yet there is also an utterly ambiguous nature to these lines. It becomes understandable that Fixel would have settled into operating within prose for the majority of his work given its more natural abilities to allow for probing examination and philosophical leaning exposition. Even when at the end of this poem as Fixel surprisingly spaces out his lines across the page, he ends the poem on a Borges-esque description:
We have come this far
traveling along a road
that leads to the impasse of silences
somewhere in the distance
inside the city of locked doors. (518)
Quite similar to Borges, Fixel returns to quizzical manifestations of “the city” such as the above “city of locked doors” confronting his readers with paradoxical impressions of the writing’s place and time, settings that recall something like the invitingly empty yet unnerving pavilions of a Chirico painting.
While I do not have any regrets over never having say shared some wine with Fixel, I remain struck reading The Collected by how extensively the steadied exploration and ever furthering explication of his abiding interests silently exploded continuously across his lifetime resulting in a body of work that deservedly may be claimed as remarkable. Quietly reserved as he may have been, Fixel remains a poet whose work speaks for itself in a magisterial quietude of posed reflection and wonder.