Saturday, March 17, 2012

Considering Escape Artists

I was recently re-reading a series of poems about an escape artist in my friend and colleague Allison Funk's volume of poetry The Tumbling Box (2009). Her poems "An Entry in the Escape Artist's Diary," "The Escape Artist Performing the Straitjacket Release," "The Escape Artist in Winter," and "The Escape Artist in an Underwater Casket" offer perspectives from the viewpoint of an entertainer skilled at performing daring and difficult escapes.     

Allison's persona poems offer a perspective from someone who is "Willingly bound" and yet adept enough to "slip the knots." In another poem, she writes that "you think I'd free myself fast;" but instead takes a little time before escaping to ponder dying because "I'd imagined death as a spaciousness / I hadn't known on earth."

Reading Allison Funk's escape artist poems helped me make better sense of my longstanding interest in persona poems focused on enslaved people by modern and contemporary poets. When poets present the liberating inner thoughts of slaves, we are witnessing the ruminations of escape artists, aren't we? In addition to being ex-slaves, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and certainly Henry "Box" Brown were extraordinary escape artists. Not willingly bound, but they did pursue daring and difficult processes, which included flirtations with possible death, to achieve their eventual release.

Many of the persona poems focusing on enslaved people provide readers with an inside view of the thinking that goes on in those boxes, the minds of the central figure. There's something entrancing about the feeling of having privileged access to the thinking of an escape artist.

A Notebook on Escape Artists

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