A REVIEW OF COLIN FULTON'S
LIFE EXPERIENCE COOLANT
BY BENJAMIN WILLEMS
The Rusty Toque | Reviews | Poetry | Issue 7 | November 30, 2014
If this is indeed how you take my usage of you, you should avoid reproducing. Moreover, if you think that any given instance of ‘I’ in this poem has referred to me, Colin RJ Fulton, be ashamed. I suggest you atone ASAP for how criminally bad a reader you are. It’s not easy to talk about reading, which is what writing is. No wait actually it’s easy as hell! There are a couple of rules of thumb however – if you’re able to keep a straight face, fuck off. If not, read on. That’s all. Admit it. (Which means let in, or something.) (28)
Life Experience Coolant is Colin Fulton's debut book of poetry. Before I begin this review, I want to state outright that no matter who you are or what your notion of poetry is—as long as you are currently alive and engaging with the world regularly—do attempt to read this book. It consists of four long poems and samples from many other sources, including the Open Parliament archive, various online forum posts (from pornography imageboards to radical activist blogs), Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers, and Jan Morris' edit of John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice. Likewise, the book’s cover poaches the 1865 painting Work, which is arguably Ford Madox Brown's most important piece. In Work, Brown reaches to depict the fullness of Victorian society: its working class, upper class, nobility, women and children, and even those who carry sandwich boards along the main road. Now, 148 years later, Fulton compresses this scene horizontally and turns the archway that frames the picture into, in his own words, "a formidable set of teeth." All of this lying on top of a pink mat. The title and author's name are nearly illegible atop the seven-and-a-half instances (that's my estimate) of the painting. More books of poetry should aspire to Fulton’s beautifully indelicate cover. It reflects the poetry's form, overstepping the cold "well designed" covers that obscure a book's atmosphere or content in order to help it sell “millions of copies.”
Even as an object, Fulton has complete control over the book's appearance. To me, this solidifies the fact that despite one’s first impressions of this unconventional text, it is primarily poetry and an expression of Colin Fulton the person. It doesn’t matter whether “Colin RJ Fulton” is the poet-speaker or not. Take the idiosyncratic layout of the title poem, “Life Experience Coolant (Condensed).” The poem features four square comic book-esque frames on each page. It’s a prose poem, left justified, and, just like the cover, it’s incredibly ugly to look at. Fulton’s careful design tells us that although many words in Life Experience Coolant come from elsewhere, how they appear on the page is still unquestionably personal. This is lyric poetry above all else and not some conceptual project-book. The reader of lyric poetry does not read only from a detached, intellectual standpoint but also from a place of curiosity and vulnerability—and so I have approached Life Experience Coolant as this reader.
Fulton’s arrangement of information doesn't provide the reader with any trustworthy method for interpreting it—the method provided is a purely personal method. Fulton’s method of arrangement is mostly a mystery, and may have no perceivable “logic” at all. The reader must immerse themselves in the quotations, transcriptions, reworkings of existing text, personal anecdotes, rants, insults, and miscellany and see what happens. The title poem is especially elusive, as it presents a passionate monologue from a speaker with some difficult outlooks who doesn't care what you think (or who you think that the “you” is), because you're wrong. The poem is concerned with the "affect of the [internet] troll," and repeatedly reminds anyone reading that they are a piece of shit who might as well stop reading now. Like any lyric poet, the speaker assaults the reader and forces them to see things they've seen before, but anew. This is the troll anew, the troll intimately. "This isn't chic LA performance art”—the poem isn't aesthetically pleasing, and there isn't an artist statement stapled to a gallery wall. There isn’t an easy epiphany to lie in bed with after the reader is finished. “This isn’t what you’d call a ‘safe place,’ this is a poem.” (33)
Although much of the information presented in this book is borrowed from other sources, there are references to Fulton’s real-world life, like how he works in an orchard in the Okanagan during the summertime. He somehow inserts this information, too, into “Red Horse/Judges,” which are the poems built out of Open Parliament transcriptions. These references are unmarked and indistinguishable from the rest of the text. They are no more or less personal or useful than any other piece of information the reader is given, and they are no more or less real life than Fulton’s angry poet-speaker persona who loves to provoke his readers for the lulz.
"In case you were curious, the poem used to end here," states the speaker on page forty-six. And for six more pages, after sharing a story about an aspiring poet-friend’s unwritten conceptual poem (which I won’t spoil for you!), the speaker describes in depth how he spends so much time playing Squadron Tower Defense, “a shitty simplistic mod” for StarCraft 2, instead of just playing the less shitty, less simplistic StarCraft 2, unmodded. The game itself. “In a trivial sense it’s because I suck.” (46) When I reach this admission, I have no idea what to do with it. I don’t know what level of self-awareness the speaker has, or whether this is just another layer of self-indulgent garbage. I have been wading through this rant for forty-ish pages, and it has been exhausting. Life Experience Coolant is worth reading if only because it is a painful, hyper-poetic take on real people that actually exist and use words to communicate with other people. In other contexts, or if handled poorly, it could have been something far less engaging, but maybe it is just a reminder that I should be engaged anytime I interact with something.
The back cover is pink and features blurbs by Tim Lilburn, acclaimed poet, essayist, and teacher, and Donato Mancini, essayist, poet, performance artist, among other things, who you might recognize from his recent book You Must Work Harder to Write Poetry of Excellence. These writers are of different generations and different aesthetics, surely, but in the case of Life Experience Coolant, both blurbs happily coexist. Lilburn writes from Canada’s already established lyric tradition, and Mancini’s contemporary practices, also pretty established, don’t really fall into the same category. On first look, Colin Fulton’s exuberant new lyric doesn’t speak to Canada’s established lyric tradition at all either, while it certainly speaks to contemporary poetic practices. But I think that it’s naive to make these kinds of distinctions on first look.
BENJAMIN WILLEMS lives and works in Victoria, British Columbia. Find him on Twitter or tilde.club.