What, along the line, lies dead ahead? Nothing so dull as a straightaway here: only lyrical twists of euphony with their trippy curves of thought. You can bet your bottom dollar that these poems are going to bend your mind around their complex corners to a better life.
In Dead Ahead Ben Doller mixes the propositional logic of analytical philosophy with the brightly festooned cultural logic of Marianne Moore or John Ashbery, fusing high and low, formal and demotic registers in a mobile force field. Doller botanizes on public idiolects, creating imaginary landscapes out of fragments of social discourse that may very well constitute new kind of utopia. Just when you think you recognize the landscape, you are diverted onto a new plane—somewhere else in Hell or Paradise—and like Alice you follow a line of reason until it is met by flying morphemes in section, fungible verbal particles forming new wholes. As he says, in a phrase that could speak to the book’s brilliant linguistic DNA, “On each inch grid a different swab of culture.” This is an amazing collection.
In his third book, Ben Doller troubles the blast zone where evolution and manifest destiny collide. Working from primary sources including Captain William Dampier’s pirate narratives and the Widow Ching legend (as immortalized by Borges), Dead Ahead develops a semi-psychological narrative along the lines of description, variation, embodiment, and pastiche/”piracy.” While Dampier is (in)famous for both his practical and linguistic piracy—stealing words into the English language such as “barbecue” and “avocado”—the Widow Ching famously commandeers the pirate fleet of her husband yet ultimately relinquishes her power in response to nature’s signs and portents. Doller sets about bringing these sources together in a collagist 21st century text, employing an anti-colonial critique of language, naturalness, and empowerment. With meditations on common, colonizing objects—such as the porch, the column, and the city—the poems in Dead Ahead look straight on at the pleasures of stealing, the perils of travel, and the ends of the earth.