It occurs to me that in the past few…ok, more like a year, I’ve strayed
a little bit from my mission, which was to really introduce the poem or
poet, doing a little analysis, or asking pointed questions to help us all
digest our weekly reading. I suppose it’s just good old laziness that has
led me to choose items more out of topicality or serendipity of late, thus
explaining why I’ve chosen said poem as opposed to investigating how it
works. So I’ll try again. I’ll probably still fail 50% of the time, but
I recently read an article about Beth Ann Fennelly in NOTRE DAME MAGAZINE
(she is a 1993 alum of the school) and was drawn to pick up some of her
work today. Although she’s won several grants and a KENYON REVIEW prize
for her first collection, and although her most recent collection is
mainly about child-bearing and -rearing, she claimed in an interview that
her proudest accomplishment was running the 1998 Chicago Marathon. It’s a
flat course, but I’ll give her props for that.
In the poem below, and even in its title, she exhibits the wry, warmly
ironic humor that I’ve noted in a few of her pieces. It’s a voice I
imagine we can all feel comfortable with. And she’s subtle enough that she
chases her subject from a kind of detached literary analysis,
crush-like emotions that have to get out, then deftly turns from a couple
decent metaphors to both the quotidian atoms that love is built from and
eventually to the full blush of sex–which actually climaxes–and then
"returns home"–home to the point/theme of the poem–with what is
essentially the closing couplet of what’s been–surprise!–a double
My question: does the coyness of title and ending vitiate the
humanity of the intervening 26 lines? And oh, hey, any thoughts about how
it all sounds? OOooh, and one more: does anyone else see the near-obscene
near-spoonerism (a term S. Bailey of Boulder, CO, will be glad to define)
tucked in there? I spotted it while scanning line-endings for rhyme and
thought, ooh, Beth Ann, you not-so-brazen hussy!
All my love forever darlings,
WHY WE SHOULDN’T WRITE LOVE POEMS,
OR IF WE MUST,
WHY WE SHOULDN’T PUBLISH THEM
How silly Robert Lowell seems in NORTON’S,
all his love vows on facing pages: his second wife,
who simmered like a wasp, his third,
the dolphin who saved him, even "Skunk Hour"
for Miss Bishop (he proposed though she was gay),
and so on, a ten-page manic zoo of love,
he should have praised less and bought a dog.
We fall in love, we fumble for a pen,
we send our poems out like Jehova’s Witnesses–
in time they return home, and when they do
they find the locks changed, FOR SALE stabbed in the yard.
Oh, aren’t the poems stupid and devout,
trying each key in their pockets in plain view
of the neighbors, some of whom openly gloat.
We should write about what we know
won’t change, volleyball, Styrofoam, or mildew.
If I want to write about our picninc in Alabama,
I should discuss the red-clay earth or fire ants,
not what happened while we sat cross-legged there
leaning over your surprise for me, crawfish you’d boiled with–
surprise again–three times too much crab boil–
Oh, how we thumbed apart the perforated joints
and scooped the white flesh from the red parings,
blowing on our wet hands between bites
because they burned like stars. Afterward,
in the public park, in hot sun, on red clay, inside my funnel
of thighs and skirt, your spicy, burning fingers shucked
the shell of my panties, then found my sweet meat
and strummed it, until I too was burning, burning, burning–
Ah, poem, I am weak from love, and you,
you are sneaky. Do not return home to shame me.