A Review of Great Guns
My first experience of Farnoosh Fathi’s poetry was at a reading she gave at the Danny’s Series in Chicago. While she read the long poem “News” I had the distinct sensation of having fallen asleep in an airplane on the runway only to wake up later (who knows how long later) to find myself midair, in some great “in between” space of transit. I wasn’t actually sleeping. I reserve poetry naps for conceptualists. I only mean that Fathi’s poem was working like a vehicle that moves between the familiar and unfamiliar, and that hearing it aloud puts one squarely in the middle of this voyage.
But an airplane analogy for Fathi’s poems is ultimately flawed. They aren’t so mechanical. Rather, as Great Guns makes clear, Fathi’s poems are more like acts of digging, acts of verbal-terrestrial investigations, a kind of poetic gardening in which language forms a relationship with bugs and mud. As we “dig in” with Great Guns,
the task becomes to “Brave the hole of this becoming shape.” This shape takes on many contours in Great Guns, but its most consistent feature is to curve language, via metaphor and point of view, so that these poems convey both molecular and visionary messages, or rather, convey the visionary at the molecular level. As the conductor of “The Conductor” observes:
These sad stones we skip make
infinite notes across the lake, and we are bound
to sound of what we throw so far, for no one’s sake. (6)
Great Guns throws out a multitude of stones, and pursues many of the infinite, usually unperceived notes. For example, the note of an inquisitive pore: “Who goes, asked the pore, there on one hand so beautiful?” (8).
The inquisitive pore is only one of the many unperceived “notes” in Great Guns. Fathi offers up “a world in the moss” as her poems ping-pong various voices and perspectives. “Worm Rally,” one of my favorites, deftly works at the worm as if it were a “word,” and then the other way around, so that the poem becomes a sequence of wormlike lines slithering through a textual soil.
The worm-poet of “Worm Rally” begins with the desire to “slit in curves, distend mouth and rings, / forcing my way, penitently with words…” and the poem moves forward as a worm in a garden. A worm’s body is a fusion of various segments, and the contraction and expansion of these segments allow the worm to move. Something similar happens with Fathi’s poems which expand and contract in momentary segments of clarity—such as the moment in “Worm Rally” where we consider “how to grip the squirm, vigilant and clean beaked,” as if the poet or reader were becoming a hunting bird. The poem expands through other turns and curves, at one point becoming a meditation on the act of making, a discourse on the possibility of knowing “what snapped / in the maker’s mind.”
“Worm Rally” proclaims that “the mind can burrow anywhere”; likewise, the poems of Great Guns burrow into various perspectives at the same time that they wander through a broad territory. Fathi’s segmentary poem-mind distributes itself across a spectrum of the zoomorphic, the geomorphic, and the psychomorphic. We encounter a kind of bestiary of flies, cicadas, gnats, moths, bees, snails, rats, tigers, doves, mice, oxen, and pigeons, but also children and plants. One standout includes the prose poem “Iris,” reminiscent of Ponge’s poetic investigations of objects, which imagines the flower’s “unbudded, single stalk” as a tool engaged in various art forms, for example, a painter’s “green-dipped paint brush.” In the poem’s final gesture, the stalk is impaled by “a sword which turns invisibly deeper… and sends the fresh purple blood up brimming to the petal edges of the delicate.” An allegory, then, of life—of blossoming—as a gesture of breathtaking violence which breaks the hypnotic rhythm of representation, the “segmentary” ebb and flow of this visionary garden.
Nearly every line in Great Guns opens “a new hole in the ongoing flute” (64), and the result of all these holes is that our perspective becomes “strewn first and wide / By the senses’ gravities” (43). Another way to say this is that the poems’ nearly hallucinatory descriptions are pulled by a kind of gravity toward one molecular “segment” after another—“an unpowdered mole on the chin of a tulip” (51); “the one silk nick in this whole molestation of eternity” (54). The segmentary poetics allow for simultaneous division and fusion—and that’s what I love about Great Guns, that it manages to infuse the visionary with a sense of the particular. As Fathi proclaims in “The Conductor,”
A vision must turn on itself and wander,
in order to reckon a new earth,
while hearts may still be heard octagonally,
among cattails dreaming of birds dropping white violets
like ions loosed from outskirts. (6)
The outskirts remind us of the vastness of the molecular, the vastness that all visionary wandering requires, even as it magnifies a bird’s dream or flowering of an ion.
Nathan Hoks is the author of Reveilles and the Narrow Circle. He lives in Chicago.