Ether Sea Projects

About the Book

PottsCollision Center

Randall Potts

1993 • 89 pp. • $10.00
ISBN: 9781882022151

Out of Print

“Collision Center, however, doesn’t strike a balance between the singular, subjective territories of Iowa Writers Workshop poetry and the densely populated, politically charged, urban landscape of Language poetry. The only striking going on here is the striking implied in the title. Nature colliding with language, theory colliding with meditation, lyrical poetry colliding with sampled text, etc.”
–Thoreau Lovell

“In Randall Potts’ poems, nature and language collide, and then proceed, each having been transformed by the other. The result is a kind of prayer and a kind of scream, as we witness the newly manifest being carried away on the stark clarities of his lines, “watchlessly dis-figuring, what remains to be seen.” There is gratitude and there is terror: here they embrace.”
–Ann Lauterbach

About the Author

At the heart of Randall Potts first book, Collision Center, is a constant and varied renegotiation of how the ‘self’ is projected in poetry. Potts is a young poet who settled in San Francisco after studying at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late eighties. This is a strong book, in part, because Potts successfully combines the lyrical, personal approach associated with Iowa, and the theoretical, apersonal styles of West Coast Language poetry. More than that, Collision Center, is satisfying because it engages large themes (nature, history, voice, to name a few) in language that is exciting at all levels: from the play of syllables, the break of lines, the groupings of stanzas, to the overall sequencing of the poems.

While most of the poems in Collision Center are strongly rooted in the lyric tradition, they also redefine the ‘self’ that Potts found in Iowa. Here the personal, authorial self, is in continual collision, if you will, with the theatrical, speculative, imaginary, and textual selves in the book which seek to qualify its authority.

The aptly titled first poem, “Self Portrait,” opens with the lines: “A dark row of windows– it’s too late.” A river freezes & a shore is made exact.” The idea of ‘self’ is frozen in the past– a definition rather than a process. But only five lines into the poem this gradually calcifying image is wonderfully interrupted– something is literally bubbling beneath the surface, is present in the air. “Under the house an orchard smolders like coals.” Huge automobiles are their own angels.” The world and the imagination reassert themselves and in doing so break up the static image of self. It is only after this dramatic intervention that the ‘I’ can enter Potts’ poetry a few lines later with the statement, “I kneel down like a little girl,” allowing the religious– through a gender switching act of association with a pure, impossible Other– to enter these pages as the turbulent center of the self reentering the world. “The result is a kind of prayer and a kind of scream,” as Ann Lauterbach says in her back cover blurb.

Potts’ interest in Language poetry is indicated in the only epigraph in the book. Barrett Watten’s “Authority is to representation as trauma is to dreams.” This quote which Potts uses in his poem “Abandon,” is fitting both for its nod to Watten as an important influence and because it shifts the focus from the more common Language poetry concerns of “authority” and “representation” to the less theoretical “trauma” and “dreams.” It is one of the strengths of Potts’ writing that he is able to engage Language poetry without resorting to either blind mimicry or knee-jerk rejection. Equally important is his ability to engage trauma and dreams– the very stuff of intensely personal, subjective poetry– without ignoring the more theoretically framed modes of writing that Language poetry encourages.



There is no point to begin with.
A weight of color hangs over the trees.
This is not a description.
How are we to spend our time.
Some enact their bodies.
Others painstakingly enact a word.
A language can conceal itself as love.
The trees so yellow.
In what age belong these trees.
Many have decided to be right & therefore immortal.
If silence is the first conceit he is alone.
The waves insist something.
There are many correspondences for anger.
There is no point to begin with.
A word begins an avalanche.
He is repeating what he has heard.
Days lengthen but what is revealed.
Time works as a set of analogies.
The waves insist something.
It would be paranoid to speak of collusion,
In what age belong these trees.
He is ambushed by sunlight.
The sentence is over an overturned boat.
Someone is coughing on the back porch.
Buildings are painted to look like buildings.
Ideas of up & down remain splendidly.
Trees resemble other trees though not exactly.
He has an impulse to confess more than is likely.