Ben Doller’s Dead Ahead

In the past year or so, I’ve been consistently impressed with the authors coming out of Fence.  Fence was founded in 1998 by Rebecca Wolf and is currently affiliated with SUNY Albany.  Fence Books, the publishing side of Fence, tend to showcase young, non-traditional writers.  The work that’s published is all over the place thematically, but is rarely, if ever, not good.  Ben Doller is no exception to this general rule of thumb.

A couple months ago, I picked up Doller’s 2010 book, Dead Ahead.  Doller’s a dynamic poet.  The tone hits different pitches in a way that feels less scatterbrained and more like a smorgasbord of the writer’s experience.  At any moment, his verse can be abstract or concrete,  heavy or seemingly irrelevant.  The form varies from traditional, right-justified, free-verse stanzas to stanzas that stretch across the page from bottom to top, forcing the reader to take the book and turn it sideways to read.  Doller keeps you on your toes, and none of the visual or tonal decisions that fall under “non-traditional” have the feel of poetic parlor tricks.

I knew I was sold after reading the first poem, “What Do You Do.”  It’s quite the question to field as a poet, regardless of one’s level of success.  I don’t think the poem necessarily is a “poem for poets,” but it certainly resonated with this poet.  After the initial “what do you do,” Dollar continues:


Well.  I tie population

knots in a length

of baling twine

laughing at mister

water & my, well —


(our elation

ship swell) —


the ratio of life

to rest & a lot


of dogheaded sedans.


If only I could rattle something like that off the next time I bump into someone from college.  These stanzas set us up for what to expect for the rest of the book: simple questions with answers that defy our knee-jerk understanding of language.  The poem meanders like this for 4 pages, mashing together imagery like this and occasionally slowing for more attention to certain scenes.

If there is one caveat I can pull from this introductory piece to Dead Ahead that sums up the rest of the book, it is this:


Bunny go in your


then go around you

& go out you

should have known


me before, a human

being being before


a humming bee


kissing all the outlets

the toilets & violets

the various house nozzlets


The last 4 lines of this excerpt especially highlight how I feel about Doller’s work in Dead Ahead.  The humming bee, seemingly random to our eye yet answering to some order merely foreign to the observer, kissing all things both desirable and undesirable.  Every odd mashing of image, sound, and tone seems wild yet with roots in natural energy.


You can find Ben Doller’s Dead Ahead, more samples of his work, and other works published by Fence at their website[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sean Kearney is a native of Northeastern Pennsylvania currently residing in Philadelphia’s neighborhood of Fishtown. He received his MFA from Arcadia University with a focus in Poetry in 2013. Sean is currently setting up readings and the host of a monthly open-mic/open reading in Fishtown and floats between occupations such as dairy clerk, freelance journalist, and one-off mascot gigs. His hobbies include playing music, playing with cats, etc.[/author_info] [/author] .