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
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,
. 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.
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.")