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YANAGUANA LITERARY REVIEW

Fargnoli, Patricia.Then, Something. Tupelo Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-932195-79-8, 74pp. $16.95 [To order, please order directly from the press's page for the book at http://www.tupelopress.org/books/thensomething

 

 

Let me confess before I begin, that I have been a Patricia Fargnoli fan since her May Swenson award-winning book, Necessary Light, was released by Utah State University Press back in 1999.  That book convinced me that a significant new poet had arrived.  Fargnoli’s first book not only convinced me, but also convinced Mary Oliver who wrote of Necessary Light that “These are poems absolutely not of promise but of accomplishment.”  It is unusual to have such an accomplished poet complete her first book at Fargnoli’s age, but she has surely had a long apprenticeship somewhere.  The poems in Necessary Light were accomplished poems of maturity.

Honesty also compels me to say that I was privileged, as publisher/editor of Pecan Grove Press, to publish a superb chapbook of Patricia Fargnoli’s poems:  Small Songs of Pain.  That brief book is a tour de force of poems based upon the fables of LaFontaine as interpreted in a series of gouaches by Marc Chagall.  The poet Ingrid Wendt said of those poems that “they bypass plot and descriptive reporting to bring us into the heart, the timeless essence, of each canvas as seen through the eyes of a poet fully in tune with the complexities and griefs of today’s world.”

Fargnoli’s current publisher is Tupelo Press and her most recent books, Duties of the Spirit and Then, Something, both come from that fine press.  In Valparaiso Poetry Review, Michael Milligan, in a perceptive review of Duties of the Spirit, wrote that “[Fargnoli’s] sense of place is impeccable — describing, indeed re-creating the physical and emotional landscapes through which she travels, Fargnoli fastens us securely to our own. Concurrently, all countries become the same country, all vistas the same vista — the boundaries between reader and poet dissolve and for a time we inhabit the same realms.” 

That sense of place, Milligan writes about, also permeates Fargnoli’s most recent book, Then, Something. Then, Something is a superb collection that grounds us squarely in a time and place:  getting older, approaching an end, watching to see what will come next, if anything, in a place in New Hampshire that Fargnoli has made her own.  The poems reveal a woman doing the small things that are essential and seeing in those small things a larger universe that she shares with her readers.  In “Easter Morning,” she writes:  “Gray and cold.  Christ rises again—or not.”  There are no easy answers to that “something” that might follow the “then.”  Then, Something (that comma represents a very important pause) is a book of discovery.  From the garbage truck blocking her driveway, so terribly urban, as she attempts to leave the house in “The phenomenology of Garbage”

And because  she can’t go anywhere,
she sits  there (in her Toyota Corolla
with the  rusty gash in its side)
as the grind
of the  compactor drowns out
her dog  singing in the barn, nose in the air,
and she wonders  where all this stuff is going—
(not only to  the dump, which is obvious)
but in the  long run—

and on to the so rural New England cows, a dozen gathered near the gate, lying down, / backs touching, chewing side to side.  // The air was full of rain not yet falling, a slight rancid / pungency of cows, the vegetation of full spring— / all its weedy green and field flower.  All of that so serious and yet with a delicate, sly humor tracking the lines, poetry composted from the compactor, from the rain, from the waste of cows.  This is a trip we take with Patricia Fargnoli that is serious and joyful and both lyrical and narrative.

Part II of Then, Something is a lengthy poetic sequence entitled “Pemaquid Variations (New Harbor, Maine, September 8 – 15, 2001)."  The sequence reminds me, in some ways, of the Sea Drift section of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “Sky open out beyond my greed to understand it, and I /      am alone here, wandering across the beach, / carrying a scavenged branch as walking stick to scratch my name.”   This 15-part linked sequence of poems is one of the more subtle, more lyrical responses to the events of 9/11/2001 that I have yet read.  The final two sections of the poem repeat the first two sections in reverse order, completing a circle that is implicit in the whole poem.  The variations are not so terribly varied:  the presence of the sea, the waves washing ashore, waves towering and breaking, life moving as Arnold measured it in “Dover Beach” and then, and then

XI

When the news came, we were stunned
and could not believe this had happened.
When the news came.
We were stunned, we sat like stones
in the beach cottage, before the  televisions,
and could not believe.
This could never happen,
Then the news came.
In the cottages, before the televisions,
we sat like stones.

The response to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers leads to a kind of fracturing of lines, a repetition of images, of words, resembling the waves that grow into towering breakers. In section XIII, the ocean has calmed, but meaning is still far away, on the beach, where the sea weeds are drifting / rocking and rocking the night / wraps around me, / close as a blanket but / stretching to everywhere and / soft   soft   soft   soft /            the waves / come in   in   in   in  And then Fargnoli repeats the Section II Stones’ weight in my pocket, driftwood… and completes this eloquent lament with acceptance, much as a formal elegy would do, by returning to what passed for calm and peace in Section I, but much of that, as we read in Section I and Section XV is on its surface,….

Section III is, largely, about loss and memory:  of parents, friends, relatives, so many losses, so much to remember.  “Pastoral” takes us away a bit, but Fargnoli does not allow the kind of solace we associate with the word "pastoral": 

There are so  many messages I can’t interpret.
The hundred  maples at the edge of my street shout orange, orange, orange, 
in silent  voices. And may say more if I could decipher.
How I want to understand the many calls of the birds migrating through      
on their  long journey.  And what is the message of the shaggy      
wave-curled  sea quarreling around the black rocks out at the far point?

 

 

 

Questions.  Here in the autumn of life.  A desire to be able to answer, to interpret, as Whitman translates the mockingbird’s song in “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and the birdsong in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” but Fargnoli finds no easy translation, no sure path to find the “something” that follows “then."

Then, Something is a transcendent meditation on growing old and the something that comes afterwards.  The book is immersed in nature, the changing of the leaves in autumn, the waves from the ocean washing onto the shore, the cycles of nature.  Both lyrical and narrative the poems return again and again to the beach, to contemplation of the rhythmic motion of the ocean’s swells, the waves breaking on the shore, that “Old Mother” Whitman sings and celebrates. 

Into the waves and the long sweep of wild  waters, 
you bequeath your grief, the many griefs  that have entered your cells,
and left their mark, the way algae clogging  a pond surface
with its heavy green layer hides clear  water.  You bequeath the days
when your heart was a carousel of rise  and  fall.
You bequeath the reins.  You let all you meant to control go.

You let it all go, give up control.  With the waves, you will rise and fall, buoyed by clear water.  Not an answer, only a description.  Fargnoli does not answer.  No one can.  There is something of the pantheist here, some turning to nature for solace, for rhythmic answers and acceptance.  But there is no easy rush to glib, new age answers.  Then, Something does not give us answers.  That is not the poet’s task.  What it gives instead is the beauty of language and poetry, a way of looking at the questions, and only perhaps, a type of acceptance.

The fifth and final section of the book begins with the poem “Then.”  And the reader thinks, for a moment, that the thing that follows “something” is here.  But Fargnoli does not and cannot give an answer to the questions this book so beautifully asks.  In “After the Dream of My Death” we are told that “None of the questions I spent life asking / have been answered.  /  Transience, evanescence, the dispersal of dust.  /  God knows where, and is no where.”  And more:  “In the distance, a piano /  casts its notes into the great absence, // which is where I’ve been heading—all along.”

The book ends with a “coda” that is a kind of summing up.  But the real coda to the book is a poem that reminds me of and may be an homage to Frost’s “Two Look at Two.”  “Then, Something” takes the poet to a spot where she can see two moose standing in a marsh.   Fargnoli describes a kind of communion between the moose and its mate and her, but then doubts her own interpretation:  “Or am I only making something of them they were not?  /  Weren’t they only two moose in a swale, /             pulling up water plants, chewing them //  just before full day fell over the earth?”  Answers and attempts at answers; visions and revisions.

Fargnoli has accomplished something important in Then, Something:  poetry of a very high order.  This is poetry that reminds us that poetry is important, that poetry needs to be read.  Two more things:  1)  Tupelo Press has done a fine job affording margins than can handle the poems well instead of breaking the lines at odd places.  Nothing forces publishers to stick to standard page sizes when poems demand and deserve space on the page to breathe.  2)  Patricia Fargnoli’s voice is an important voice, one that a wider audience should listen to. 

Then, Something is an important book filled with poetry that moves beyond simple lyricism into a kind of poetry we have not seen often enough in recent years.  This is a book we should all have…not on our shelves, but in our hands and in our minds.