National Poetry Month affords me the opportunity to see and hear about poetry in places I normally don't. Our local public library has a decent collec...moreNational Poetry Month affords me the opportunity to see and hear about poetry in places I normally don't. Our local public library has a decent collection of poetry, I've picked up Thomas Lux and Anna Kamienska from their shelves along with the expected classics and poet laureates. But this month they set up a display in honor of the "holiday," and Usher caught my eye with it's beautiful cover image.
When I picked it up, I was pleased to see it was by B.H. Fairchild. Though I've not read any of his previous work, I was aware of him through Image Journal. I had been excited to pick up some of his work and find out what it was like.
And what was it like? Well, I think this quote from "Freida Pushnik," one of the opening poems about the Armless, Legless Wonder who toured with Ripley's Believe It or Not.
"So here I am. The crowd leaks in - halting, unsure, a bit like mourners at a funeral but without the grief..."
These poems halted me, left me unsure, head swimming in their strangeness. There's the Armless, Legless Wonder, the usher at a local theater who doubles as a seminary student, college kids using Corona's to ponder mathematics and God, barbers, crying piano players in Nordstroms, Hart Crane, working men, classic movies, bank tellers, babies being breastfed in convenience stores... on and on and on. And the strangeness comes from the fact that so many of these poems are not me.
I just finished Paul Mariani's The Great Wheel, and I found his poems to be very close to my own experience. These were far removed, and thick with people, places, and things I don't really know. The Bronx, the dust bowl of Kansas, even classic movies like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Country Girl that I've never seen. On my first read of these poems, I found them "too intelligent," with too many allusions to things that ordinary people don't know.
But as I began to reread, new levels opened to me. There are many levels of entrance into these poems, just perhaps not as the protagonist. In "Freida Pushnik," the Armless, Legless Wonder ponders 3 visitors that came to here during her time, to see her strangeness. I found myself in one of them. And I found lines that were "Double True," like this one from "The Beauty of Abandoned Towns":
"But in this country vocations are exploited. Ask the public school teachers."
And in the same poem, strains of my own theology even starting coming through:
"It goes back to the oikos, the Greek family farm. Some ethic, some coder of honor, kept them small. Big was vulgar, immoral..."
This is why we reread poems, I guess, because they become deeper and more personal with time. And with B.H. Fairchild, there are a maximum of images to contemplate. Perhaps, like Freida Pushnik's 3 visitors, we will either see ourselves there, identify with another and leave, or maybe we will read as if we truly wish to know these others, "as if, someday, (we) might return." (less)