Fraser has been an important voice in the rich tradition of women writers within the avant-garde. Her own poetry often addresses issues of influence and location. While Sylvia PLATH was an early role model, Fraser also became attracted to the linguistic attention of Barbara GUEST's compositions and the precision and silence in the work of Lorine niedecker, Jack spicer, and George oppen. While Fraser's work first reflected the accessible, self-expressive lyric poetry of the black mountain and new YORK schools, she began investigating how a more complex, specifically female sense of time and interiority might be articulated. She used the word gestate to define a poetic form of "unnumbered discrete phrases, unfolding and proliferating as rapidly or as slowly as one's perceptions do" (Translating 44).
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Fraser graduated from Occidental College in California and moved to New York City. There she attended workshops directed by Stanley kunitz, Robert lowell, and Kenneth koch. Fraser herself taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop (1969-71) and Reed College (1971-72) before becoming professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University, where she directed the Poetry Center (1973-76) and founded the American Poetry Archive. She edited HOW(ever) (1983-92), a journal focusing on contemporary and modernist women's poetry, and founded its successor, HOW2, in 1998. In 1964 Fraser won the Frank o'hara Poetry Prize and the American Academy's "Discovery" Award. Other awards include two National Endowment for the Arts poetry grants (1971 and 1978) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1981).
In "this.notes.new year" (1997), Fraser incorporates a typographical error into her writing, beginning an investigation of "error": "She wanted a 'flow' she thought, but in the translation it was corrected, displacing the o and substituting a. She could give herself to an accident. She was looking out the window." Here the speaking subject is allowed to be unreliable. At the same time, the poem tracks an alternative perspective known in Italian as distacco, an emotional distancing from a situation or exchange. As in painting, the poet momentarily stops to observe how the words, spaces, lines, or phrases have amassed and occur in relation to one another before deciding how to proceed with the poem.
Fraser shifted from traditional lyric form to writing based on the sentence as well as the informal genres of the journal and the letter. Visually inventive, her later work extends Charles olson's concept of "field poetics" in attempting graphically to represent the dynamics of speech and thought. Fraser also coined the term devolution to describe the process of listening through existing written forms, of revisualizing and reassembling them in order to depart from the known to the new or previously uncontainable. Fraser remains an important feminist presence in contemporary poetry.
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