Feb 24, 2014

Dante Di Stefano Reviews Brian Fanelli's All That Remains

All That Remains
Brian Fanelli
Unbound Content, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-936373-46-8

Coughed from the Dust of Old Ghosts

            In 1952, the great Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh argued for a parochial poetry. The provincial poet, Kavanagh argues, “does not trust what his eyes see until he has heard what the metropolis—towards which his eyes are turned—has to say on the subject.” The parochial poet, on the other hand, never doubts the artistic and social validity inherent in his home turf. All great poetry, perhaps, draws its internal strength and coherence from a parochial view of the world. Brian Fanelli’s debut collection, All That Remains, demonstrates an allegiance to the parochial that Patrick Kavanagh would approve.  Fanelli’s poetry details a spiritual biography, a coming of age story set in northeastern Pennsylvania and grounded in the working class experience ghosting through the hardscrabble remnants of once-prosperous factory and coal mining towns.
            Fanelli finds poetry on the streets of Scranton, in memories of childhood friends and family, and in the people he encounters every day, those who “speak in a dustbowl growl like Dylan” and who roll up their “sleeves like Woody Guthrie.”  Fanelli ends the collection with an Ars Poetica that enumerates the tributaries feeding his poetry. The final poem, “Where Poetry Exists,” reads:
            I tell my students poetry is found
            in empty mineshafts that run under
            their old town, that it exists
            in the history within jagged rock walls,
            dirt that streaked miners’ faces,
            dust that caked their boots.
            I tell them poetry is found
            in the lines of their great-grandfather’s hands,
            scarred from toiling in the town’s black underbelly.
            I tell them poetry is found
            in conversations construction workers have
            at diners, that it exists in the details
            of what they say, how they say it.
            I tell them poetry is found
            in the kiss between a husband and wife, home
            from a 10-hour shift, and their long sigh
            after they collapse on the couch.
            I tell them poetry is found in labor
            of men and women who still populate
            their hometown, that to write it seriously
            should be as habitual as waking
            to the alarm clock’s buzz and meeting the work day.

For Fanelli, poetry exists in community, in the difficult daily tasks that constitute living; all of Fanelli’s poems reflect a simple unshakable belief in the power of human connection.  “Where Poetry Exists” also makes clear the poet’s belief that poetry must praise, must not forget the toil scarred hands of ancestors who made sacrifices that went unnoted.
            There is a refreshing humility and simplicity to this collection, which serves as an antidote to the hipness that afflicts much of contemporary poetry. The speaker in Fanelli’s poems is a devoted son, a music lover, a teacher, a keen observer of small town life, a man who misses his dead father and honors his memory with his words. In “After School Drives,” Fanelli writes of his father: “I missed those after school drives, the chance/ to fill silence with conversation, even those moments/ he crooned so off-key even I had to laugh.” These lines emblematize the gentle spirit at work throughout the course of this book, the spirit of a poet unafraid to enter into a dialogue with profound loss and its attendant regrets.  This sense of loss underwrites even the love poems in All That Remains.  Ultimately, all that remains for Brian Fanelli is an abiding faith in poetry and community, coughed from the dust of old ghosts.

All That Remains can be purchased through Unbound Content