Thank you for your question. In this book of answers, Ben Doller (né Doyle, author of Walt Whitman Award–winning book Radio, Radio) molds a speaker confident in his own impertinence to the form of an FAQ culture, participating in an all-pervasive, invasive questioning—ultimately raising questions about voice, knowledge, and our speakers/our selves. Bending but not breaking to the form, this book of poems takes a turn for the novella, busting open the prose poem and walking the dotted yellow line in the headlights of an increasingly invisible interviewer.
Thank you for your question. The first industrial modern robots were the Unimates developed by George Devol and Joe Engelberger in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The first patents were by Devol for parts transfer machines. Engelberger formed Unimation and was the first to market robots. As a result, Engelberger has been called the ‘father of robotics.’
I like to call my arm Engelberger Arm, these people it points to—“fixing the power”—Unimates. The flashlights on their helmets are undeniable, and therefore good. The lights on their helmets are each kind of part. O light, wed to dust, leave it, flux me into a cloud shape; I know the first man to lift a stick to strike was the first man, the first man to dissolve the first god the first god.
Another theory posits the scarecrow as the first robot. This theory is endangered however, due to the recent discovery that the first scarecrow was an eviscerated crow. Still other theories posit the effigy, the story, the bomb, Cye, and the SDR-3X.
Copyright © 2009 by Ben Doller.
“It has been almost a decade since the pyrotechnic and youthful exuberance of Ben Doller’s (previously Doyle) debut collection Radio, Radio (2001)—a decade in which his showmanship has seasoned into a poetics of sustained and quizzical Aristotelian kinesis. As a reversal of Rilke’s famous advice for the nearly anonymous Franz Kapus to ‘live the question,’ Doller’s FAQ: arises out of the dismantling of inquiry. . . . Thinking outside the box is just about the squarest thing one can do (‘Endless imagination is sourge, is bane’) but Doller does just that, resensitizing us to the potential richnness, precision, and beauty of language exhausted from work: ‘A few of us must bear more than the rest. I do not know which of us I am.’”—from Noah Eli Gordon's review in Boston Review
“Doller’s poetry collection, FAQ:, from Ahsahta Press, features fifty-one ‘answers’ to unknown questions. Each poem, titled ‘FAQ:,’ begins with the line ‘Thank you for your question,’ but the question hangs in the air unknown—and sometimes, based on Doller’s answers, unknowable. . . . Doller doesn’t use his poems to catch clear snapshots of a particular moment; instead, his snapshots come in phrases, like moments of elucidation: A stunt cyclist seeks ‘To bludgeon gravity with speed.’ A narrator laments that ‘Endless imagination is scourge, is bane, bare, self-immolient and spark, is accepting your invitation to, to take it to nowhere, notime. . . .’ FAQ: fits perfectly as the twenty-seventh volume in Ahsahta Press’s ‘New Series’ of innovative poetry collections. As with other volumes in the series, FAQ: will challenge a reader’s ideas about what is and isn’t poetry, both in form and content. The poems in Doller’s collection fulfill a similar function: The rumination is as important as the answer.” —from the review by Chris Mackowski at Scholars and Rogues
Thank you for your question. I was born Ben Doyle in Warsaw, rural western New York, and went to school in both Belfast and Cuba, New York—worldly names for local places. We had some cheap acres of woods and a house my parents were perpetually constructing from torn-down churches and barns. Agrarian hobbyists, chickens and dogs, Mother Earth News, four younger sibs, and a wood stove that I almost burned it all down with one day when I noticed that we were blazing the wrong wood. I had glasses and a stocked pond and plenty of paths and forts where no one else was allowed lest they suffer my booby-traps. My dad poured some concrete and put up a basketball hoop at the top of a very long hill. It made one soften his shot.
Then my parents moved the family to West Virginia. I made some friends there and started playing in bands. I wrote lyrics for the songs. At the time, I thought that was the important part. I tend to think of all literature as accompaniment to some simple score.
Back to New York state, the homemade home. Senior year. I didn’t have a band anymore, but still wrote lyrics. I didn’t really think that I could sing, but I auditioned for a musical, and I discovered that I really couldn’t sing unless I pretended I was a character. I got the role of lead monster.
Went to college, the only one that didn’t make me write an essay. Majored in Viz Art, but ran out of $$ for paint. Switched to Poetry. Lewis Turco (Mr. Book of Forms) taught there, taught well there, made us write in every traditional form, learn the names and nuances of each. When you finish that, you get a literal “poetic license,” a certificate and permission to never have to touch such a form again. He also had us buy Messerli’s Language Poetries: An Anthology—that stuff was formal too! I left there a little early, moved back to West Virginia. Finished up undergrad, made more music, wrote poems. Went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in ‘98. My first book, Radio, Radio, won the Walt Whitman Award. This was 2000. Y2K luck.
Back to West Virginia, this time teaching. Then to Ohio (Denison University). Then I met Sandra Miller in Iowa and everything got better. Then we got married in a silent Quaker ceremony on a New York State Fingerlake. Then we got our dog, Ronald Johnson, in Ohio. I recommend him and his namesake. Then to Virginia and Boise, then to California, then to Colorado, then back to California. We merged our last names there; we’re both Dollers now. We write together, and separately, in the same house, full of instruments and typewriters, wherever that house may be.
Thank you for your question. FAQ: springs from several fascinations: for one, the form and language of advice, especially the sort of advice frozen in online portals, usually tapped from the fingers of nameless or aliased non-credentialed purveyors of wisdom. I am happy to report that this fascination has now officially been exorcised. The other long-standing fascinations continue to linger and trouble: the (im)possibilities of the poetic line, the distinctness of aural and visual elements in writing, the obsessive accretion of sentences in prose, and the non-narrative potential of texts as energy.
“Frequently Asked Questions” (or “FAQ” in the acronym) are masses of questions listed alongside corresponding answers, intended to streamline any website’s communicative features. If you want to know something within a certain context—any context—simply trace yourself into that context on the web, and you will most likely always find that you aren’t the first to have such a quandary (a disturbing existential problem in itself).
I don’t know what I was looking for like five years ago, but there was something I wanted to fix, make, or understand. It might have even been a kind of poem or animal I wanted to know more about, and instead I found this strange “FAQ” breed of meta-communication—a communication at once collective and clubby and oddly impersonal. (I often find myself a little too entranced reading similar such forms of formally directive public speech––recipes, instruction manuals, bus schedules, advertisements, and so on.)
So I began Googling “FAQ”—repeatedly—and got lost in the omnipresence of this form. Then I began to construct my own.
The distinctly FAQ brew of laziness ISO couch-potato practicality, along with the complex dramatic situation inherent in this ghostly interface between people (or typings that are remnants of creatures that were at some point real people) still strikes me as funny, sad, and staggering. The necropolis of the interwebs is almost too nauseating to bear, the detritus fetid with abandoned possibilities and existences. The voices behind the “Frequently Asked Questions” blend together and boil. The voices behind the “Frequently Offered Answers” are conspicuous in their pretense of mastery and wisdom, while inhabiting merely partial identities, someones somewheres purely textual.
Most poetry lies on the page in this same way: strings of decisions made we know not why, other potentials discarded and disappeared. A poem can be as remarkable for the things it omits––the zones it suggests but does not hazard––as the things it contains.
No one even knows how to pronounce FAQ: “fak,” “faks,” “facts,” “fock,” or “ef-ay-cue.” We live in an era so textual that the names we use are often only seen, never uttered. I want a poetry that does the exact opposite: combinations of words/sounds that make new meanings beyond their textual placeholders, new potentials, which liberate rather than confine a reader.
FAQ: the book is, in some ways, a total resistance to FAQ the mentality.
I was also thinking of the portability of conceptual art while writing this book, a suitcase full of concepts, jokes that can be retold in form only. Then there’s the South American experimental narrative tradition, which I love and towards which I can only hope to tip a hat. (Hello, Madam Lispector; Good evening, Señor Cortazar.) There’s “Fizzles.” There’s Cela’s Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son. There’s the piling up of language in sentences, in vignettes seemingly unconnected but by voice. Speaking of sentences piling, here’s where I should stop now.
But there’s the line. As to the poetic line, it is the reason I am drawn to poetry. The line and its breaking is, to me, the fundamental quality of poetry, the thing about which I think the most, and of which I think the most highly. In this book, I wanted to see if there were ways that prose could hold the same potential for energy and transformation as I see built into the end of a broken line (the “gulp”). I hope the twin phantoms of poetic music and logic rattle their chains between these margin walls.