Reviewed by Mary Ellen Talley
all these urban fields
by Loisa Fenichell
Nothing to Say, Inc.
ISBN 9781733951500, 54 pgs, 2019
Loisa Fenichell’s debut collection, all these urban fields, invites the reader to enter a river of memory, consciousness and association as her poems explore fierce and beautiful tributaries, intricate bodies of language filled with well-turned associative lines of poetry. In the second of the book’s four sections, “AS INFANT,” the reader is introduced to a main tributary in the poem, “birth.” The poet shares that, Anne is all mirrors: a / contemporary girl, youth & born / into complacency. Narratives that remain partial and similes with sharp images add to edginess of Fenichell’s poems. Here “birth” delivers several similes, such as she who keeps her beauty // to herself, driven deeply into her chest / like seas of uncleanliness. The mention of sea anticipates the many times water will trickle across the pages of this book. In the same poem, the poet lyrically writes of a woman named Anne:
on stage she breaks
like a recurring nightmare.
Though when asked, she does not dream.
When asked, she would prefer
to wear large paper pink bags
as dresses & suck in her stomach
until it dissolves like chicken
feathers – these she does not collect.
The adjacent poem, “inconsistencies,” suggests Anne is the mother of the speaker, Rumor has it that’s how / my mother was born. // Rumor has it that’s how I was born too. Images of light recur in many poems as well as in this one, where the female speaker muses
I like to think it stormed that night.
That the rumors are wrong.
That I wasn’t born in the sun.
That the night of my birth, the electricity went out,
& my parents were left without light.
I like to think that they wept when I was born.
That they wept again when they could finally turn on a lamp,
& and watch its sparks burst the way I did from the womb.
A reader may be curious about broken ankles, scorched bone, a bruised and mewling dog. What about who was once baby Anne? We catch snippets of narrative and/or association. Are they what the speaker calls an alternate narrative in the poem “candle story” where the speaker tells a version of her birth, another tale of origin, and finally a later story,
like a candle stuffed within the mouth I gnawed
at my tongue until the taste of sun came out
to bounce atop my legs it was the morning
I was not sad alternative narrative:
back in the motel room
I learned finally to hide in the bathtub (with my mother)
to pretend, interminably, to be taking a bath
The final poem of section two, “grandmother’s apartment,” is next to a black & white photograph of a landscape with a foreground tree in clarity and a background of water and hills in mist. There are eight other juxtaposed associative photographs in the book. This misty photograph illustrates the words somewhere in between drab / and gaudy from the more narrative and somewhat detached poem, about providing shelter for the speaker when she was a child. The poem ends with,
I want to eat the honeydew from my grandmother’s
fridge, let the juice dribble over the floor, the tops
of my feet. It is not that I do not love my grandmother
but that when, finally, she does die, I will be unable
to view her death as anything more than happenstance.
The third section, “AS ROMANCE,” is gritty. The first poem, “country song for the ages,” is anything but driven by Cupid,
I am dragon-infested, slumber-eyed, lake-sat
amidst the cooled moss. Sinner boy, I have undone the gown
while the moss still cools like rock cliff.
The lake still arrives unraveled. Consider our own romance
is linear as stomachache. Virus of the throat
reminds me that dead bitch is still surrounded by flies.
This section contains religious inferences and victimhood. It asks the question whether a victim dies a death and/or is subject to ecstasy. It asks the question whether religious words alluding to Jesus, the Bible and piety, refer to traditional religious concepts or personal relational concepts thrust upon one another. It asks whether forgiveness is translatable. These remain searing questions.
Fenichell exhibits variety in line and poem length within her adherence to free verse. In several poems, she uses repetition to full advantage. The most obvious example is “december.” The single line, All night I have wanted your goldfinch, is repeated three times. It is deceptively simple. However, the goldfinch, in symbolizing abundance and positiveness, happiness and simplicity, and in pointing to the need for variety and diversity, gives us a window into a spirit animal that might assist both poet and reader through challenges.
Some poems allude to the dead. The poem, “coruscating,” begins, It was when we harvested the sheets of your bed. Fenischell plays with time, Once in the future / we could have waded about your bedroom. The reader is not sure who is the “you” of the poem. Could it be “Sinner-boy” of an earlier poem? It may not matter. The lines, The night I near left your bed piss-stained / I had never seen you so fatherly, suggest signifigance. This poem is about fathers, with the dead fathers, each / one of them corpses lined up along your bedroom wall.
A later poem, “if you say this is done in the park at sunlight,” contains a hopeful nod to raising a coming generation, my children will ride along them each day / they will not know how to curse. There seems to be a hopeful nod to a sister; the companion photograph page shows two baby dolls on a blanket. The hints in this book are deft and subtle, particularly toward the end of section three. In the second to final poem placed beside a well-chosen companion photograph, the tone continues stronger and lighter yet maintaining candor. The title begins the poem, “when I said I was pious what I meant was”
pious for you.
We stand on rocks
& I scrape my knees.
Is this what it means to feel closer
to a god?
Loisa Fenichell introduces herself in her website (loisafenichell.com) writing, “Through visceral imagery, metaphors, and similes, I strive to untangle what it means to live in a world that simultaneously comforts and disorients.” With her first collection, this New York poet, who attended SUNY Purchase, has succeeded in her mission. Visually, the book is attractive and gritty. Within the arc of her varied and skillful lines as she uses companion poems and photos, the poems both disturb and reassure; her language usage both delights and mystifies. She has created her own poetic origin story.
About the reviewer: Mary Ellen Talley’s reviews have been published in Colorado Review and Compulsive Reader as well as forthcoming in Sugar House Review. Widely published in journals such as Raven Chronicles, U City Review and Ekphrastic Review as well as in several anthologies, her poems have received two Pushcart nominations.