Sunday, March 12, 2006

Floyd Skloot

Unlike the work of such poets as Jim Ferris, Kenny Fries, Tom Andrews or even, Karen Fiser with whom he has much more in common, there is very little in Floyd Skloot’s most recent book of poetry, Approximately Paradise to let a reader know that he has any sort of disability. In a prior collection, Music Appreciation, Skloot allotted the third section of his book to “The Virus” which marked the onset of his disability, but one has to read his remarkable memoir In the Shadow of Memory, in order to understand enough about his disability to know what Skloot really brings to the table in Music Appreciation. Not only did it leave him with the inability to walk, but it left him with a mind, which according to Skloot himself, had more holes than Swiss cheese.

My initial first impression was that Skloot was shooting for a sort of neo-formalism, which gave snapshots of various literary and visual artists: Thomas Hardy,
Carson McCullers, Paul Gaughin, James McNeill Whistler among many others. However, when I hit his poem, “Home Repairs” the last few lines stopped me

he worked by himself,
a storm of plaster around his shoulders,
the air thick with mold and age, nothing left
to mark the past but bare wall, a tapestry
of cracks, and a door that would not stay closed.

It took those sledge hammer lines to hit me before I realized, that these poems were not merely about a potpourri of artists, but that in fact, Skloot was writing about himself. I went back and reread the poems. “Gauguin in Oregon” is not just a fanciful, but (as I knew from In the Shadow of Memory) about his inability to know at times whether or not was hallucinating.

Of McCullers he writes,

When no one
else is there, she will unfurl her fist and dare
the simple left-hand of a Scarlatti sonata.
She will seek a Schubert song, her strong
soprano voice flooding the lost notes.

And Skloot is doing the same. He is not challenging us with political rhetoric or dishing out Foucaultian discontinuities, but in a much more subtle and aesthetically satisfying way, using his own experience with disability to deepen his art. Approximately Paradise may not make many Disability Studies curriculum lists, but it is well worth reading.


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