Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, by B H Fairchild

Posted: January 10, 2017 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

from my Kindle book, Parameters:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parameters-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp/B07893LB8Z/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1513428648&sr=1-1&keywords=parameters

B H Fairchild W W Norton and Co 2003

B H Fairchild has been hailed as an exemplar of the ‘plain style’. His acknowledged predecessors are James Wright, Richard Hugo, and especially Philip Levine. He made a big splash with his previous collection The Art of the Lathe; this new collection has added to and cemented his reputation. He was a finalist in the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Kingsley Tufts and William Carlos Williams Awards amongst others.

 

We must distinguish between ‘plain style’ and the ‘ornery’. Fairchild’s themes are of the Southern States blue-collar worker’s experience; but there is no caricature in his work. We encounter narratives, but they are by no means Frost’s Calvinist legacies:

(…)

After the year of troubles – the family business drowning
in red, the broken plates, black words, slammed doors,
my mother and father in separate rooms, the terrible silence
that grows like a clutch of weeds choking the little house –
(…)
from: The Big Bands: Liberal, Kansas, Summer of 1955, Pt1

So, anecdotal then? No, this excerpt is an interlude in a narrative, a yarn that roams the Kansas plains and records:
a pipe seal somewhere making a sobbing sound (…)
(ibid)

He can rhapsodise:
The green Packard I have just washed dries by the curb,
and the evening makes a bronze plunder
of brick streets (…)
(ibid Pt2)

A loose, freewheeling of memory, then? Well, no, not that either; his poems centre on very real events, times, places, but they also explore what it is about them that makes them memorable. And a very assured use of rhythm, metrics; knowing just where to place that caesura for maximum effect in catching the tone of those places, those times.

‘Holy Rollers, Snyder, Texas, 1951’ begins:
Shades of brown: rust of the dirt road in
and the gulleys deepening to umber,
the taupe of winter grass along the shoulder (…)
(ibid)

And the details redolent of authenticity:
Nightmare fades to memory: the grey-brown hair
of Mrs Hill pasted to her neck, the cracked
porcelain of her hands (…)
(ibid)

We encounter Mrs Hill again:
(…).hammering
on our front door shouting (…)
(…) oh I’m so sorry, so sorry
so sorry (…)

(…) He said
he was going to shoot me. He had a shotgun
from: Mrs Hill

This becomes:
In the kitchen now Mrs Hill is playing
gin rummy with my mother and laughing
in those long shrieks that women have
that make you think they are dying.
(ibid)

while her husband:
my father (…)
(…)  his shadow envelops Mr Hill (who)
(…) bows his head and sobs into his hands (…)
(ibid)

It is not straight narrative; I have missed out the sections that plumb the child’s responses. The laughter-shrieks and dying-women association is very much a writer’s connection; the shifts of grammar between present infinitive and immediate modulate our understanding: this not just a poem about marital crisis, but about the relationships between husbands and wives, of family and lack of family.

Similarly, in The Welder, Visited by the Angel of Mercy, the narrative of a truck wrecked by a blown tyre at speed, takes on a greater significance

The red dust of the city at night. Roy Garcia,
a man in a landscape, tries to weld his truck and his life
back together. (…)

(…) and the arc’s flash hammers
his eyes as he stumbles, blind, among the fruit of the earth

We are set up by the title to pick up on a secular Saul, blinded by what he cannot see, but is readily apparent. It is the contextual detail that renders this accessible to us.

And when Fairchild rides we cannot help but go with him over those Kansas plains:
Rumbling over caliche with a busted muffler,
radio blaring Buddy Holly over Baptist wheat fields,
(…) Boredom grows thick as maize in Kansas, heavy as a drill pipe (…)
from: Rave On
The event this poem records is a very scary episode of young kids hungry for kicks, turning a car over at speed with themselves inside.

In that long, strung-out first sentence we travel a long way: from the hot head of youth, to a more muted, reflective age; from the self-absorbed tone to a more abstract tone; from the mid fifties, to the present day.

The book is divided into five parts, which map out wider and wider circles of knowing, from the immediate vicinity where one grew up, to Paris, London, Nuremburg… but at the centre always the same sensibility:
(…) he gazes deep into the Seine,
the face of a glassworker’s son stares back,
and the river that runs through Paris runs
through Ohio past Jimmy Leonard’s shack (…)
from: A Wall Map of Paris

Like Mrs Hill’s hands transfigured into a (secular) saint’s hands, Roy Garcia, stoned truck- driver, transfigured into a Saint Paul figure, Fairchild acknowledges how memory changes what is remembered. But also, by acknowledging and re-identifying with the Southern Baptist religious background, Fairchild avoids the modernist dilemma of alienation from one’s background through the nature of one’s awareness, and revivifies a sense of oneself within one’s past, and the past of one’s community.

The last section of the book is a long poem that narrates the back story to the earlier sections. Here B H Faitchild gives the chronology of an inspiring relationship with secret epileptic, small-towns drifter, and his wife. They had tried Hollywood and film writing, but returned to the small towns.

So where does he stand politically? What of his social awareness? Southern State politics are strange, there are no obvious distinctions: a Republican can display strange Libertarian tendencies, and vice versa. Fairchild’s long ‘narratives’ acknowledge, record, these blended affiliations but refrain from comment.

B H Fairchild                    bhf1

Also, see:

 

bhf2

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Comments
  1. viennafamous says:

    You’ve done it again – I want to go and read this now!

  2. jgousseva says:

    Interesting interpretation, thank you.

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