The Raving Fortune, Noelle Kocot. Four Way Books, 2004. 65 pp. $14.95

reviewed by Joy Katz

Noelle Kocot’s invocation to the muse is addressed to “the place in my head where ideas come from.” “How the hell are you anyway?” she asks, good-naturedly, as if she has run into a friend from seventh grade in a bar, and the answer is: Fine. In The Raving Fortune, Kocot’s brain churns out (sometimes in 17 minutes, as the title of one piece informs us) poems that are out-of-control exuberant, intelligent, moving, and funny — much funnier and at the same time more serious — than in her very fine first book, 4. 

Kocot’s imaginative process works like the video game "Centipede." She fires word-strings at chunks of experience, mostly moments in relationships: sitting on the sofa with a lover watching tv, riding a train across a bridge. Many times she scores beautifully, even brutally, at hitting the tragedy of the quotidian, as when she envisions the pathos of “false empathy [being] wielded / like a blowtorch through a box of cake mix.” Other times her shots miss the mark but make a big, brilliant flash. “It’s all so la-di-da,” she says, “the aureate bootleg.”

What keeps the aureate bootleg, and other phrases that defy comprehension, from being annoying is her acute pleasure in them. “I get excited so easily when lines come to me,” she says, wanting to howl “like the woman with the pierced clit in the porno flick.”

A talented yet cowardly poet could set out an “acoustic glacier” oh-so-casually, like an arty bowl on a windowsill, in place of meaning. In Kocot’s case it is the outburst of an almost religious ecstatic. This poet, student of Heidegger and Celan, child of the Enlightenment whose brain is the seat of inspiration, speaks in the most fabulous tongues. In a poem dedicated to the artists of her generation, she holds up “the dangling factor in a cheap velour equation.” What’s that? This reader can’t tell. But Kocot is willing to implicate herself, along with her compatriots, for an empty-seeming “parade of shiny numeric gestures” (her own numeric gesture being the number 4). How brave! “Here and there,” she says, “a certain deadness reigns.” Yes, absolutely — but never ever in this book.

The Raving Fortune
traffics in dying, survival, loneliness, “the wounds of [an] unsatisfactory life,” the poet’s relationship to the unspeakable. It is utterly unafraid of the big questions. The stakes couldn’t be higher: Kocot wants nothing less, in her poems, than “to save the world.” But she wonders whether her perceptions, and her being, will disappear. Does the sound of a train, so soothing it reaches “the rich marrow of stars,” exist only in the briefest instant? Is there anything left to imagine anymore? “Forget everything you know,” a voice in her head torments her.

In response, the poet wields the world of canvas sneakers and ufo pictures, transformed by her in language, just as Robert Creeley, facing the abyss, brandished a goddamn big car. Kocot balances the sadness of  “a great love affair extinguished by mental illness” with the redemptive power of  “saucy food in cardboard heatable boxes,” eaten while holding hands with someone. What better way to cope with moonlight — the beauty of which, in her poem, is as crazily intense as a porno-movie orgasm.

Joy Katz is the author of Fabulae (Southern Illinois Press, 2004).  She lives in New York.