The Little Edges by Fred Moten (Wesleyan University Press, 2014)
Reviewed by Emily Corwin
Fred Moten once sat in my car. The roads were bad, first snowfall of the year in small town Ohio. I was nervous, feeling all this responsibility: young poet driving famed poet to campus for a workshop. Yet despite the snow, and my neurotic driving, Moten was at ease, hands folded in his lap across his winter coat. There was a warmth in his voice, an openness that made you glad to be in his presence.
I couldn’t help hearing Moten’s voice while reading his latest collection The Little Edges, a wide hardback reminiscent of storybooks, immediately resisting what poetry can look like. From the first page, Moten’s speaker is inviting, drawing us to come closer: “here go a box with a lid on it. if you open it you can come into our world,” one made of music, sensuality, edges. The voice itself is composed of fragments, scattered across long sequences and varying shapes—text drifting into white space, text aligned to left, to the right, in snippets of prose. The form offers these delicious slivers of language, often enjambed, pushing us over into the next line and the next. Moten’s “shaped prose,” “rhythmic blocks,” “soundworks”—however he calls it—these visuals intend to disrupt, to resist expectation: “look how hard and sharp it makes you breathe…we quiver with work and revival. we carry ourselves till you ready to hear what that sound like” (Fred Moten: A Wesleyan Companion, par. 2).
This “we” certainly shapes the voice as a collective one, an allusion seemingly to Moten’s influences, specifically black artists and activists in poetry, dance, music. Moten pays homage to these figures by naming them, as he did in his 2009 book, B Jenkins, names such as Muddy Waters, Cecil Taylor, Amiri Baraka, M. NourbeSe Philip, Sun Ra, and Jaki Byard. Considering the visual form of this book, how it shape-shifts in each sequence, one could see how blues, folk, jazz seem to saturate the work, each poem a musical composition. More significantly, this naming places Moten’s work within a larger artistic community, one that is inter-textual and pushing the edges of what art can look like.
While the center of this book focuses on voices and musicality, structurally, the work is framed by a love story, seemingly between the speaker and Moten’s partner, Laura Harris. The Little Edges opens and closes with Laura, the speaker first addressing her in the morning, before she goes to work: “you are my starship. you’re/ all I need. you send for/ me and I can’t keep my/ self from coming, baby/ as I am, I have what I already have, I’m yours.” This final piece from the sequence “laura (made me listen to” has an intimacy that strikes just right:
I turn skin soft.
turn your lips soft
we built some
cities. you are my
perfect ones. the
Moten’s lyric is visceral, refreshing, provoking in its form, its voice alive and singing. The Little Edges is ripe with pleasure to the eye and ear—definitely a satisfying read.