Kate Kelly
SEX MADE PLAIN: In Praise of Eggplants and Elbows On The Works of William A. Fahey

Fahey's poems, specifically the writings in two chapbooks, Body Parts, and Fruit and Vegetable Suite (both published by Birnham Wood Graphics), are suffused with the language of eroticism without ever crossing over into pornography or, what some of a more conservative mindset might refer to as, tasteless titillation. That Fahey finds in 'Brussel sprouts,' the "bright green cojones of Antonio Gaudi," makes clear that Fahey is having a great deal of fun here and his playfulness and curious take on the commonplace easily seduced this reader to quite willingly follow behind as he romps through the vegetable kingdom.

Another 'vegetable' poem, 'Plums,' reads: "One doesn't eat them. Break the skin and suck. They go down/ in a slurp, black oysters; a liquid titivation of the tongue; / a perfumed embalming, stiffening the spine with pleasure; / Cleopatra's dying kiss, asp stung.

As a person not generally taken to eating plums, this poem makes my mouth salivate and my stomach growl. Reading the poem is akin to enjoying the pleasures of the flesh and that is exactly what Fahey seems to be after here with his language, i.e. suck, slurp, tongue, stiffening, pleasure, kiss…. Each word innocently sits on the page and the reader fairly easily does the arithmetic; plums are no longer plums but that rare (because so unexpected) lovely sensual encounter one savors long after the experience.

Throughout this Fruit and Vegetable Suite of "25 Favorites" Fahey uses the words titivate or titivation, which is defined as "to dress or smarten up." When reading this word I often, in my mind, substituted the word, titillate or titillation. I suspect the poet knew that would likely happen, and he is having fun with his vast vocabulary. (I had to look up titivate to convince myself there existed such a word and that it was not a typographical error! just another of many humbling experiences …) These poems that praise eggplants, garlic, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, etc. are liberally sprinkled with references to classical, mythological, historical and contemporary figures such as Sappho, Puccini, DeSade, Corbusier,Colette, Manet, Proust, Gaudi, Grimm, and William F. Buckley (!).

It is clear that Fahey's grasp of history, and the persons that dot its vast landscape, is solid. When he refers to these persons it is so wholly in the context of the poem as to be seen as part of the fabric of his intention rather than intellectual posturing. From the poem 'Broccoli,' : "Brassica oleracea italica: Colette's wild Italian progeny, / arms akimbo, nodding vivid heads." Can't one just see the vegetable in all its glory, indeed, vivid heads!

One of the absolute delights in Fahey's poems is the juxtaposition of his obvious and vast knowledge of history and his aforementioned extensive vocabulary, with an irreverence that smacks succinctly of contemporary irony and/or cynicism. The closing lines of his poem, 'Spinach', read: "Isfanakh in Arabic, it does not decline well. / / A fair-size portion will make you shit black for a week."

The poems in this delicious chapbook made me, by turns, laugh aloud, reevaluate my relationship to certain disdained vegetables, and brought to my cheeks the fine warm blush that indicates a rather good time has been had by all.

In his book, Body Parts, Fahey takes on the role of poet masquerading as the mortician or physician who, having exhausted the usual definitions of body parts outlined in dry textbooks, decides to have another go at it. And, as such, he finds an altogether new way to describe the head, knuckles, elbow, teeth, hair, lips, the nose, the eyes, fingers, nails, the testicles, the breasts, the buttocks, and knee and foot….

When I read these poems I feel very much like I am listening to a slightly deranged medical examiner! 'Hair' is "odiferous, even in the comb." 'Knuckles' are " secret bases for the insurgent Arthritis Gang." 'Fingers' can " …make a coin disappear, tie a knot, comb / hair, or destroy the composure of woman." Ah! Here we are again - the seduction creeps in, and it is all the more seductive because Fahey chooses to 'destroy the composure of (one) woman.' 'The Breasts' are "Sweet apples. // Knockers, jugs, tits, boobs - the dear little things / are known by a thousand names and relished." And 'The Testicles,' "Like oriental worry beads, they induce calm through / digital manipulation whilst certain mantras are/ intoned. // Left to themselves, they shrink, violets of the erotic / landscape, exuding musky odours from their woods." Here, I think, Fahey falters in his description of breasts, but his description of testicles is testimony to his own attention to, and familiarity with, his male body.

Fahey has a delightful way of seeing anew what is too often overlooked as the commonplace. Fahey's elbow is a "hinged crook." His nose is "Turned up like a Turkish slipper or a stubbed toe…" And eyes?

They are, in fact, nothing like the sun.

Proust found enamoured pupils congealed, like
precious stones, in a countenance of ice.

Others have detected malice, mystery, passion and
deceit in their specious deeps.

Colored jellies for the crows, how they slide and
shift under papery lids."

A few years ago, and not long before he passed on, I was honored to hear William Fahey give a reading. His voice was soft and I had trouble making out his words. It was the only time I heard him read and I left feeling somewhat frustrated. Now, having read his poetry and familiarized myself with his influences ( Faulkner, Fitzgerald, etc.), having spent time speaking with his wife, the artist Joan Fahey, I can only be grateful to have been graced with the presence of such a witty and intellectually challenging writer.

(Editor's Note: William A Fahey was for many years an English professor at CW Post College of Long Island University, and editor of such fine publications as West Hills Review and the fiction section of Confrontation. He taught mordern poetry and the short story, with a specialty in Anglo-Irish literature. When asked about his poems from these collections, akin to musings on inanimate objects, a few years before his death, he said this: "i like the 'thing-i-ness' of things, i like to make fruits and vegetables dance, sing and live for us.")



Poetrybay seeks fine poetry, reviews, commentary and essays without restriction in form or content, and reserves first electronic copyright to all work published. All rights to published work revert to the author following publication. All Email submissions should be in body of email text.

To submit poems write to:

PO Box 114 
Northport NY 11768
or email us at 

send comments to info@poetrybay.com

first electronic copyright 2004 poetrybay. 
all rights revert to authors

website comments to dpb@islandguide.com