Sunday, March 16, 2008

Funkhouser, Fairchild: More of the world

I recently went back to look up a poem by Erica Funkhouser that I first read in The Atlantic Monthly back in December 1995. It is called 'The Accident' and was collected in her 1997 book, The Actual World with a few minor changes (the main change was dropping the two last words of the line " but the neighbor knew he was going to cook for her.") The poem presents a high-resolution depiction of an incident where a wife suddenly realizes simply by observing the smallest details in a moment of crisis that something has been going on between her husband and the woman next door. The thing that struck me going back to it was that it was a much longer poem than I had recalled, that there is more of the world in the piece. Raymond Carver used to say that his stories from the collection Cathedral onwards were fuller and "more generous" - "generous" is a good word for Funkhouser's poem.

The common drive to get more of the world into the poems is nicely caught in the title of Albert Goldbarth's New & Selected 1972-2007: The Kitchen Sink. But one poet who stands out in this regard is B. H. Fairchild whom I first came across by googling for something about the story of Mozart at table folding and refolding his napkin in intricate patterns (which seems to embody something fundamental about the way the artistic mind strives to shape and investigate possibilities of form, the bedrock of theme-and-variations ... and this could lead off into a discussion of Bunting's ideas of musical form) ... google led me to the poem 'The Art of the Lathe' which includes the lines ...

I listen to the clunk-and-slide of the milling machine,
Maudsley's art of clarity and precision: sculpture of poppet,
saddle, jack screw, pawl, cone-pulley,
the fit and mesh of gears, tooth in groove like interlaced fingers.
I think of Mozart folding and unfolding his napkin
as the notes sound in his head. The new machinist sings Patsy Cline,
I Fall to Pieces. Sparrows bicker overhead.
Screed of the grinder, the bandsaw's groan and wail.

There's a strong element of Fred Voss's factory-floor vignettes in much of Fairchild's work, but something else is going on: there's a richer inclusiveness of reference.

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