Our Sudden Museum
By Robert Fanning
I saw Robert read his poetry at Grolier’s Poetry Shop in Harvard Square. Maryam invited me and we had been meaning to go to reading together. So though it was a gross, winter’s night and biking resulted in spikes of ice shooting into my face, I attended the reading on a Friday evening. It was awkward. Very few people where there; those that were either knew Robert well or knew the Grolier’s staff well. I had never heard of him. I stood around awkwardly, browsing the shelves, so awkwardly that the staffed asked if I was there for the reading. I told her I was.
Many of Robert’s poems were about death — the death of his sister during surgery, his brother’s suicide, and his father’s death. He spoke about each poem before reading it, giving us a context that would be nearly impossible to glean from the book alone. It made the poems feel more alive to understand how intensely personal they were. A little more beautiful.
The first poem he read was actually a funny one, about the ghosts of famous poets making fun of him for going to the gym. But then we got to the rougher ones: the feeling of his sister’s house after she has unexpectedly died; explaining to his son what it means when a ladybug dies; the perspective of the wooden beam from which his brother hung himself. They are rough poems and they feel like eulogy, sometimes, a way to keep his memories alive.
I ended up liking the poems a lot, so I bought the book and took several months to finish it at home. They are not all that good and they seem to lack a theme other than him — his life, his experiences, the things in his head that come together. I don’t especially like that. I wanted a different thread, a different thought of why write poetry other than “I experience things” though I suppose Patricia Lockwood’s books are not so different. Except she has this incredibly distinctive way of thinking and her poems are rarely about themselves. Robert Fanning felt in some ways bland.
However the poems were solid little things and many rang home true. The title is wonderful.