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Angele Ellis: Midnight in the Backyard of Lust and Longing

In her new poetry collection, Alexis Rhone Fancher Boldly Explores the Landscape of Sensuality. 

BRAZEN by Alexis Rhone Fancher. NYQ Books. 2023. $18.95.


 It is often midnight in the noir California where Alexis Rhone Fancher’s poems bloom like moonflowers in sexually charged ground. BRAZEN is the ninth collection from the Los Angeles-based poet and photographer, whose enigmatic cover portrait both beckons and challenges readers. (Nineteen other Rhone Fancher photographs appear in this full-length book as provocative punctuation, underlining the jarring exposures and tantalizing secrets of the poet’s world.)

Rhone Fancher pulls no punches. In BRAZEN, she connects fiercely with her subject matter, landing her lines—witty, savage, loving—like knockout blows, “eat[ing] Bukowski for breakfast,” as she says in a poem from an earlier book, EROTIC. Written in this spirit are Rhone Fancher’s eight “Famous Poet Behaving Badly” poems, collected in this volume. 

In “The Famous Poet Apologizes for Not Coming on to Me Sooner,” the famous poet, “after lunch at Octopus,” updates his longtime “daughter-confessor” on his most recent tryst, as well as on his faithful stalker, before he makes his move: 

	… He asks why we’ve never hooked up before.
        I tell him his life has too much drama.

        He takes my words as a revelation,
        My off-the-shoulder blouse, as an invitation.

        The famous poet nuzzles my neck as we hug one last time.
        I find decolletage particularly irresistible, he murmurs.

        His lips get lost in my throat.

        I remind him I’m married. 
        So am I, he says.

Rhone Fancher bends both bodies and time in BRAZEN, moving from adolescent loves to later life loves and back again. The poem “Once, at fifteen, in a field in Camarillo, I picked raspberries” revives the sting of rejection from a “tall, fickle boy” who saw in this girl only “a dandelion / he blew me off”:

	…Even now, at a party, when
	Someone asks me what field I’m in?

        I’m always in that field,
        ripe, stained,

“Why We Didn’t,” BRAZEN’s opening poem, speaks of another kind of withholding, as the teenaged speaker and her boyfriend tease each other “deep in the leather seats of his 289 Mustang” as well as on the car’s hood, with the phrase “we/he didn’t” repeating like a drumbeat:

…We didn’t, but I rubbed the hard swell of his penis through the
prophylactic of his jeans, ground myself into him like I knew what I
was doing, and I wanted him to do it, too. Before he left for college
in San Diego, he didn’t; he left me behind in L.A. I was sixteen, eager
as fuck. He’d just turned eighteen. And when his father warned him,
Eighteen into sixteen don’t go, he listened.

Underlying the boldness of BRAZEN are dark reminders that a woman’s body often is her only weapon in the struggle for survival—a weapon that can be turned against her in the blink of an eye. In “I Can’t Afford to Complain,” a “hot sales rep” endures “the open leer” of a repulsive client, knowing too well that “there’s a thin line between compliment and assault”:

	…Joe Zamborelli stares at my breasts,
	licks his lips, considers his options.

	And I, who work on straight-commission,
	have rent and daycare and a car payment due,
	fix a smile on my own, fresh-painted lips,
	tell him I’ll take good care of him,

	and how very, very, happy
	I always am to see him.

In “Recidivism,” a woman capitulates to the call of an abusive lover—the “ex” whose flaws she gauges, even as she is unable to control her “deplorable glee” at the departure of his “blonde du jour” or her own dangerous justifications:

	…Look, each time he knocks me down, I right myself.
	(I know what side I’m buttered on.)

	He knows the limits; he hasn’t killed me yet. […]

But there is tenderness as well as blood-streaked desire in BRAZEN—as demonstrated by six numbered odes, each dedicated to a different part of a husband’s beloved, imperfect body (back hair, “hitchhiker thumbs,” hernia scars, mouth, deviated septum, heart). In  “1. Ode to My Husband’s Back Hair,” she sings its glories with rich metaphor and simile:

	How it births just above his derriere, a dank profusion
	of blackness, fuller as it reaches his waist, 
	climbs up either side of his spine like kudzu.

By the poem’s soaring conclusion, the husband’s back hair has become art:

	…A dense forest tangles the slope of his shoulders,
	grapples his neck. I starry night him in the shower,
	soap his back, whorl his eager flesh,

	Don McLean’s Vincent*,
	sung straight-faced, an homage.

	*(O Starry, Starry Night)

Beauty found in unexpected places is a hallmark of Rhone Fancher’s work. In the prose poem “Midnight in the Backyard of Love and Lust,” a repetitive, predictable “domestic” episode is retold through the artist’s lens as a drama of operatic proportions. 

The battling lovers are Marie and Holly, whom the poet cues with “The sapphists are at it again.” Her use of this late Victorian term for lesbians—with its echoes of the ancient, mysterious Greek poet Sappho of the isle of Lesbos—sets the scene. Marie and Holly become compelling and beautiful as they turn from fighting each other to reaffirming their devotion after the police arrive:

        …This time it’s Holly, the younger one, dragged to the
        patrol car, yellow hair wilding, small hands cuffed behind her back,
        kicking at the cops in those Daisy Dukes, an army jacket waifing her
        silhouette.[…] It’s almost dawn, and the trees shiver in the
        fog, raccoons slink through the tall grass. Marie, Holly’s better half,
        paces the yard in a blue bathrobe and slippers, smoking a cigarette,
        sobbing as the cops jam her lover into their car. Watch her head! she
        cries, and flings herself across the yard, lunges for Holly through the
        glass. Baby! Baby! she sobs, the reason for their discord forgotten.
        Holly mouths a sloppy kiss. Marie opens her robe, presses herself
        against the glass.

The last two sentences—pure Rhone Fancher—bring the poem to a finale that is boffo:

        …Can you believe it? I would give anything to be loved like that.

Review copyright 2023 Angele Ellis.

Poetry quotations 2023 Alexis Rhone Fancher. Included by permission of the author.

5 comments on “Angele Ellis: Midnight in the Backyard of Lust and Longing

  1. Rose Mary Boehm
    May 18, 2023

    Wow, vulnerable and courageous. Excellent review, makes me want to read it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an enticing and accurate review of this poet’s beguilingly beautiful work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Saleh Razzouk
    May 18, 2023

    Informing review.
    Now i know body is not an erotic object as one can understand. Rather it is a way to explore youself, the other and the wotld.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2023 by in Opinion Leaders and tagged , , , , , , , .

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