Friday, March 6, 2009

Review of Melanie Faith's "Bright Burning Fuse"

Review of Bright Burning Fuse by Melanie Faith (Etched Press, 18 pages, $5)

What I like best about the poems in Melanie Faith’s Bright Burning Fuse is their “downhomeyness.” These are poems from the heartland, the poetic version of John Mellencamp songs or Billie Letts’ novel Where the Heart Is. In the recent debate about Wall Street versus Main Street, these poems clearly side with Main Street, or perhaps somewhat off-Main Street. For me, it’s a familiar world, albeit one that seems to be vanishing.
In each poem, Faith captures the ambience of late 20th century rural America using the only two tools available to the poet, language and imagery. In the opening poem, “Time Was,” we are reminded that
Once it was the kind of world
where a girl could travel around alone
along any road with a backpack,
a change of clothes, and a banjo.
In the rest of the poem we follow this girl we remember from the days of our childhood, or, if you’re younger, from your parents’ stories through an innocent pick-up, dinner with a stranger, sharing photographs, and arriving at a commune where growing plants leads to internal growth as well, and all with no sense of the danger we would feel in similar circumstances today. The colloquial title of the poem sets the right tone such that the reader is not at all surprised to find the only three-syllable words in the roughly 200-word poem are “grandfather,” “seasonal,” and ironically, “provincial.”
“Time Was” is not the only colloquialism used as a title in the collection. My favorite, because I can remember my grandmother saying all the time, is “It Makes a Body Wonder,” although my grandmother’s statement was usually the dismayed “now don’t that make a body wonder,” usually followed by exactly 5 clucks of her headshaking, self-pitying, resolved tongue. Similarly, in this poem, the speaker remarks how the whistle of a distant train at 1 a.m. can make “a body itch to rise up and follow,” but then quickly acknowledges “my people are not a runaway people. / We are nine to five at the dinner and thrift store, / we are PTA and tilling rows without complaint.” Ultimately, the speaker tells us
Even when we go, we always find our way
back to these woods and creeks,
back to moonlight clinging to the clearing,
back to a silently wondering, listening.
Which probably doesn’t really sound so to most of us after all.
And so it goes in this collection, each poem presenting us compelling images of a world that is far from perfect, but still, in its predictability, its closeness among human beings and to the earth, and even its self-deprecating humor, remains appealing. In the same way, these poems are deceptive, seemingly simple at times but subtly conveying the truest and therefore most important internal human conflicts: ambition versus acceptance; familiarity versus possibility; comfort versus curiosity.

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