Sunday, December 5, 2010



Then, Something by Patricia Fargnoli
(Tupelo Press, North Adams, MA, 2009)

I loved this book and yet, found it difficult to find the thoughts, the words, to pin what it is that moves me when I read Patricia Fargnoli’s words. Her poetry leads me to a very satisfying place… I find myself seduced by the effects the poet’s images create and too, I’m charmed to not know just how it is she manages to weave this spell upon my mind.

The book is physically broader than the usual poetry book – almost square – to accommodate the very long lines of many of the poems and perhaps these are partly the reason that from the first page, I was so easily drawn to following them and the poet…"Wherever you are going"
You will want to take with you the mud-rich scent breaking through March frost
                  and lemons sliced on a blue plate, their pinwheels of light.

You will want to take strawberries you have stolen from the farmer’s night fields
                  and the sleepy child you lifted from under the willow where she’d been playing.

You will want to take the one-eyed horse that was never yours and the obstinate cat that was
                  and the turtle with the cracked shell you found crossing the hard road and could not save.

Are not you tempted in too?

Another thing… the soul is something very often over-done or done not-very-convincingly by poets, yet on the following page Patricia writes a meditation On the "Question of the Soul" that in some understated way, seems to ‘get’ the enormity of the subject in a way I’ve not seen before…
Someday watch smoke travel through the air.
Someday watch a stain spread out to no stain
in the ocean. The soul does that.

It doesn’t care whether or not you believe in it.

Weighed down by the vested interests
of the body, it nevertheless bears us forward.

So, perhaps, it is my soul, entranced, that bore me forward into Patricia’s book ;-)

Or maybe it was the next poem, "The Phenomenology of Garbage," a witty and wry piece in which, during a few minutes of traffic grid-lock stoppage, a million itemised things and feelings and sounds are
… brought forward
all the way from the Big Bang,
the whole mess collapsing
to no-time and all-time
the way everything’s a paradox,
like her thoughts which are going
everywhere and nowhere …
which are at a dead end
and no end (so to speak), blocked
by this metal Magog rumbling before her.

The fourth poem in the collection is also irresistible, "an Almost Ghazal with Thoughts Toward Spring" that seems to dance me with it towards a new season of re-birth…
Nothing loosens the way a brook loosens from April
ice hurls up along the edges, block after giant block.

A poet I knew lived in a mountain cave, wrote on trees
and sang to the wind. Light’s time his only clock.

Winter leaves me in a hush, trailing its long scarf of hours. What door
slides back at last, Patricia? Light comes in. No need to knock.

But I can’t just page and dip, poem by poem, through the book by way of review. Then, Something has five parts which I like to approach as if they are the five acts of a play: Part I comprises poems of searching, reflection.

Part II is one long poem detailing a week’s family holiday at the coast. It is divided into fifteen numbered and mostly untitled short sections, and in the first few the narrator is in melancholy mood. Then there is a mention of a hurricane, and the passing of a stormy night. And then…
This could never happen,
Then the news came.

In the cottage, before the televisions,
we sat like stones.

The poem, "Pemaquid Variations," carries a sub-title I’d taken little notice of earlier: New Harbor, Maine September 8 – 15, 2001. The pieces of poem continue and now, evoke the sense of bewilderment of that time in the USA. The last two sections of the fifteen are a repeat of the first two -- but formatted slightly differently. Subtle and powerful indication of how nothing in that country can ever be the same after the events of September 11, 2001.

Part III is poems with an over-riding sense of disjunction and betrayals, losses -- a search for some ineffable something. Part IV of Then, Something tarries in loss -- in the inevitable losses of people and good health that come with age and still, Patricia Fargnoli avoids any sense of pity. A mood of matter-of-factness overrides any whiff of pity -- whether by or for the narrator or the condition; the poetry evokes a calm sense of acceptance of this part of the cycle of life. Case in point, "Cows in Fog" -- a text version of Brian Jecker’s monochromatic cover photograph;
My eyes are white with loss

                  in a landscape not meant for seeing.

The poetry of Part V consolidates that acceptance, evokes a sense of preparedness for transition... and again, those compelling long lines taking me the full width of the wide pages…
Then, he held me there as if stunned, the figure who had appeared saying
                  this is the edge between what is and what is not.

I might have been the story that wasn’t told—of the woman who left her home
                  without looking back—changing forever what happened after.

I trusted only in that spectral figure who moved, with such grace, ahead of me
                  into the dark evergreens, and the door of their branches closed behind us.


… peace… peace, despite whatever it is the past held, peace in the face of whatever it is the future may hold… that, I think, is what Patricia Fargnoli’s conveys with her poetry. To close, the last, celebratory poem from her Then, Something:
a woman walked away from the winter village,
became sand,
became ocean,
became sky.



Moira Richards lives in South Africa and hangs out here
and here.

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