First a disclaimer to frame what follows: In the age of the internet, there’s more access to poetry, more people are writing it, and the overall volume of contemporary poetry has probably grown at a rate faster than the general population’s growth. This means more good poets and poems, but also, frankly, there’s a lot of bad poetry out there. Or just middling poetry. Or people who talk about poetry a lot but never seem to actually produce any really good poems. We all run into these poets, being poets ourselves. And in a world of reciprocity, it’s tempting to publicly say, “Oh, I know X – they’re a good poet,” even though their work might not be particularly good. However, out of some contrary sentiment, I’m generally very cautious when endorsing poetry, as you never know when an otherwise excellent poet will lay a stinker or a so-so-er. (Conversely, I remember my shock when one of the least promising poets in my graduate program produced, in quick succession, at the end of that student’s final year, 3 of the better poems I read during my tenure there.) So there’s just no telling, and I try to carefully vet my good recommendations.
Robert Fanning is an exception to that moderately long-winded introduction. He’s a poet whom I’m happy to endorse blindly. Yes. Blindly. He’s that good. He’s that committed. He’s that careful.
His new book is called The Seed Thieves, and you can order it though Amazon.
Fanning’s poems are some of the most wonderfully lush constructions you could ever hope to vocalize. They transcend clunky rhythm and predictable rhyme; I’ve heard people new to poetry re-read, aloud, his lines for the sheer pleasure of hearing them spoken. While his poems are musical, they are so in the best sense, which means that their lush chains of sound are at the service of the poetry’s deeply informed emotional sensibility.
People tend to use the words “lucid” and “compelling” with regards to his poetry, and that’s perhaps because Fanning’s poems have a true sense of inevitability about them. They’re carefully thought out meditations on the human condition with no false steps that dissuade us as we read; the craft of the poems, though completely present, is transparent. Fanning's attention to detail (physical and emotional) means the poems are questioning, bittersweet, tender, and, perhaps, say things we disagree with or which cause us to question ourselves and our reactions. But Fanning’s persuasive passion (and the poems *are* passionate) validates those kind of reactions. We love the poems because while they are sometimes not the things we would say (even in our better moments), they are completely and transparently the things that could or should be said by a human with an unblinking and informed eye.
In keeping with my kvetching about positive reviews, I'll try to use one of those poems to explain what I think Fanning's unique strengths are as a poet.
In the meantime, if you're in NYC, you should check him out, live.
He'll be reading at the “Readings Between A and B Series” with Marie Howe on Monday, September 25, 2006 at 7:30 p.m. at the 11th Street Bar in the East Village, New York City.
If there's anyway I can swing it, I'll be there!