Alexis Rhone Fancher’s Erotic: New & Old Poems, Reviewed by Dan Cuddy

Alexis Rhone Fancher, Erotic: New & Selected, NQ Books, Beacon, New York 2021, ISBN: 978-1-63045-071—7, 142 pages

I, once, thought that Alexis Rhone Fancher was “a” or “the” female Charles Bukowski. I was wrong. Oh yes, they both wrote four letter words in their poems. However, the words and emotions around those four-letter words are so different. Los Angeles appears in both of their writing, but Bukowski’s city is a bar and a flophouse. Fancher’s is a stage, a night club with red lights and the patter of 4-inch heels. Her poems are filled with three-dimensional live people lusting, loving, crying, mourning, growing silent, thinking. Bukowski’s poems are only about him. His mind-fogged, alcoholic daze is only concerned with the mirror of the glass he holds, and the bravado of holding it. Fancher, even when her narrator tells of drugs, is always in some sort of relationship. Her poems are interactions between people.

I like Bukowski’s simple writing for some inexplicable reason. I’m not charmed with the man. His persona is loutish, a belch and a scowl. Fancher has a touch of elegance in her language. She is as sensuous as the light of a full moon, or as a full course meal. Her writing, unlike Bukowski’s, is not fast food. She even writes Murakami Cento Love Poems in which the text is taken from Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood. I can’t imagine Bukowski taking the time to painstakingly construct such a poem, or reading Murakami’s novel. Fancher’s diction can be instantly understandable and can be, as some will say, crude, but there is an eloquence, a sparkling lame’ dress that covers the lanky and curvaceous body of her raw and so real, deeply emotional poems. Even the bravado of the bartending waitress is so different from that of the half-wasted, grumbling bar hound.

I can’t imagine Bukowski coming within a hundred miles close to the descriptive and evocative language of the second stanza of “Lust at the Café Formosa”:

She was a sway-in-the-wind willow, her skin
the pale of vanilla ice cream, her hair all shiny black,
straight like an Asian girl’s, thick as a mop.
She was maybe seventeen, on the brink, so ripe
sex exuded from her pores. She leaned against the juke box
fingering those quarters in her shorts pocket
so they jingled like Christmas, the fabric between
her thighs stretched to bursting.

Alexis Rhone Fancher’s subject, metaphor, obsession perhaps, is sex–many acts, combinations, body parts doing their unmentionable-in-polite-society deeds. However, she is not writing pornography, though her writing can titillate. The poet is exploring relationships, the intimate, the public, the kisses and bruises. The title of her latest book published by New York Quarterly Books is Erotic: New & Selected Poems. The book lives up to the billing. 

Fancher experiments with form. There are prose poems. There are poems in which each stanza is numbered and the point of view shifts; there is a punning fun poem, which would never have been published 60-70 years ago, but is innocent. The title is “I Prefer Pussy (a little city-kitty ditty).” The first two stanzas are:

I prefer pussy, as in cat
as in willow
as in chases a rat
as in raised on a pillow.

I prefer pussy, as in riot
as in foots
as in pussycat doll
as in puss-in-boots.

The poem heats up linguistically with slang. It is an inventive poem probing the poetry of the street over the decades giving its own code names to anatomy. It is fun, though you don’t want to hear your 8th grader recite it. In contrast, there are very serious poems like “Dark Option”:

When you smile in your sleep I get nervous.
I know what you are capable of.
I’ve got the souvenirs to prove it, the fractured wrist
that never healed, the flinch when
you reach for my face.
I’ve learned to do what you tell me…….

The amazing thing about Fancher’s writing is that she is so versatile in exploring the street on which she has chosen to live. Her scenarios are relatable. Here is the beginning of “Family Tree” (A Sister Poem):

My younger sister
climbs my limbs, steals my clothes,

Sleeps at the foot of my bed,
calls it worship.

She wants the gold locket between
my breasts. She wants my breasts.

She wants my life.
It’s been crowded since the day she arrived.

Quoting the beginning of poems doesn’t show their twists and turns, and those endings that are like turning up the ace of spades in a card game. Changes everything. The series of “sister poems” are particularly inventive. I think women will appreciate them in an empathetic way. Here is the ending of a poem titled “Double Date: The Quarterback, the Fullback & the High Cost of Dinner.” The preceding lines set up the situation. The ending has a twist to it, a vast difference of experience, and the irony of it:

that while he was assaulting you,
you didn’t wonder if the fullback was out there,
raping your sister. If he, too, was brutal.

In fact, your sister and the fullback only
watched TV, making out, but just a little.

You had no way to know this. 

Here are two stanzas from a poem titled “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead.” It shows a different wealth of treasures the poet employs. Here are cultural allusions.

she’s planning a comeback.
she’s snorting Ajax for the camera. 
she’s landing a role on “I Spy.”
she’s writing her number on a napkin and
handing it to me at King Eddy’s saloon.

June Fairchild isn’t dead
she’s just been voted Mardi Gras Girl at Aviation High.
she’s acting in a movie with Roger Vadim.
she’s gyrating at Gazarri’s, doing the Watusi with Sam the Sham.
she’s mainlining heroin in a cardboard box.

Sex, desire, love, self-gratification, exploitation is a messy mix. That mix is the spark of this book. The human condition is being explored. It inspires a kind of updated American Decameron, but in poetry. It is a short, condensed capsule of experience crafted with precision. Alexis Rhone Fancher writes with a drama or scenario in mind. No, these poems are not sestinas, or pantoums, or a rigid march of lines coming out of the late 19th century, but the works of a very vibrant, liberated woman of the 21st century writing in a manner unthought of when patriarchal morality walked with scepters through the neighborhoods looking for sin under and in everyone’s bed. Some may object that the rhythms and music of the writing is prosaic. Though the poet can burst out into a lyric description, or light up words like a neon sign, her talent is narrative. She inhabits the inner sanctum of the mind. Her characters aren’t theories from the university or royalty from myth or legend. Her characters order pizzas and speak American vernacular. The writing, though very readily communicative, is very pregnant with a density of meaning. She has said “It may seem I’m writing about sex, but really, I’m writing about power.” The poems are not the literature of classical English courses, as inspiring as they may be, but they are the poetry of contemporary life, all the beauty, ugliness, superficiality, depth of the human loving, suffering, celebrating, fearful mind and heart—don’t forget the heart. Do these poems inspire? They illuminate. And Alexis Rhone Fancher has a unique voice. Her kings and queens are naked in every way.

© Alexis Rhone Fancher and Dan Cuddy

Alexis Rhone Rancher is both an accomplished Poet and Photographer. She lives in San Pedro, CA. Her work has appeared in hundreds of publications, among them Best American Poetry 2016, Rattle, Plume, and The American Journal of Poetry. Her photographs are published worldwide, including the covers of Witness and Pithead Chapel and a five-page spread in River Styx. She is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly in LA.

Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. Most recently he has had poems published in the End of 83, Broadkill Review, Welter, Bhubaneswar Review, the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, the Pangolin Review.

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