Voices in Italian Americana:  A Literary and Cultural Review

Vol. 9, Fall 1998, #2

Review by Michael Eskin
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, England

[Julia Bolus. Circus of Infinite Attractions. Torrington, CT: Stranger Press, 1997. Pp. 65.]
When I first heard Julia Bolus read from Circus of Infinite Attractions I was mesmerized: the poet's ethereal, yet firm and professionally poised recitation combined with the stylistic simplicity, ease, elegance, and straightforwardness of carefully wrought poetic fictions and impersonations, which succeeded in making me forget that I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the basement of Manhattan’s Knitting Factory on a dreary fall day. Upon re-reading Circus of Infinite Attractions almost half a year later, I was again stunned by the imaginative idiosyncrasy and force of Julia Bolus’s poetry, by her capacity to enthrall and intoxicate without shortchanging either intellect or emotion in running the gamut of stock personal, social, political, ecological, literary, etc. topoi or absconding itself into the realms of inaccessible catachresis and abstraction.

Circus of Infinite Attractions orchestrates, among others, the voices of such memorable characters as Bill, the ringmaster, Nina, the trapeze girl, Eno, the illusionist, David, the lion tamer, Jorge, the flame swallower, Pearl, the painter, Lulu, the kissing booth attendant, Iris, the bearded lady, Carlotta and Simone, the joined twins, Estelle, the illustrated lady, Clear Eyes, the native man, and Isabel, the fortune teller--all of whom participate in the creation of a colorful and condensed tableau, a kaleidoscopic arrangement of snapshots and images of circus life, which reveals itself as a microcosm replete with all of life¹s contradictions and complexities.

Alternating between memoir, autobiography, meditation, and matter-of-fact description, the sixty prose poems constituting Circus of Infinite Attractions acquaint the reader intimately with the struggles and aspirations, worries and desires, regrets and hopes of a remarkable group of fictional personages, in whom he or she will undoubtedly recognize facets of his or her own prismatically refracted and poetically displaced existence. Nina’s observation that “there is only so much / [she] can do without someone to catch” her, Jorge’s memories of his parents, who “sent [him] half way around / the world to forget their scorched throats,² Estelle¹s account of her transformation into a “human canvas,” or Clear Eyes’ fragmented record of his “people’s stories . . . / beaded in the patterns of [his] buckskin” skillfully blend the singular and the universal, thus underscoring poetry’s significance as a genre which, as Adam Zagajewski put it, exceeds the here and now, the realm of the merely personal.

Unmistakably suggesting their kinship with such illustrious predecessors as Browning’s duke, monk, painter, and grammarian, and Yeats’ Robartes, Aherne, and Crazy Jane, to mention only a few, Julia Bolus’s characters add a sizable number of unforgettable sketches and miniatures to the motley portrait gallery of modern poetry. Julia Bolus’s poems will, without a doubt, etch themselves into the memory of many a reader attentive enough not to be completely overwhelmed and taken in by the admittedly seductive and attractively marketed symphonic blast of main-stream poetry most ostensibly embodied in the recent Scribner anthology The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-­1997. Those who do not necessarily depend on anyone’s test for the canonical, those who prefer to further spin out the metaphor Beethoven’s violin sonatas to his symphonies will, I am sure, find the subtle and subdued chords and melodies of Circus of Infinite Attractions to be profoundly engaging, stimulating, intriguing, and, last but not least, simply quite beautiful. In short, Julia Bolus’s poetry blatantly refutes A. R. Ammons’ provocation that “garbage has to be the poem of our time.”
Michael Eskin
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge