Saturday, April 11, 2020

fanny says

Nickole Brown's Fanny Says blurs lines between a poetry collection and a memoir. A loving yet complex tribute to her late grandmother, the book is a hoot, steeped in the South and seared in pain. It resists sentimentality, something that isn't easy to do when reflecting upon one's loved one, especially a grandmother. It's a folksy read, but also a bitter-tinged one. Sometimes real-life dialogue is poetic in itself and the highlights within this big-hearted tome are Fanny's razor-sharp idioms and judgmental quips. "Pepsi" is one of my favorite poems I've read in a while, a hilarious portrait of Fanny's cola addiction and all her demands and needs around it: "I want that glass to be plastic and pretty, / something with flowers, maybe in pink; now, don't give me no ugly cup. / It better be clean too; don't give me no dirty glass, / pull it hot from the washer if you have to, / but just four--count them, four--cubes of ice." Brown uses so many specific details to illustrate Fanny's wardrobe, her uses of Crisco, her relentlessly "Clorox-ed" house, and her potato salad recipe. Fanny is foul-mouthed and prickly but the obvious love she has for Nickole and Nickole's obsessively-detailed telling show a strong, haunted bond. Brown doesn't ignore Fanny's problematic racial views and faces them on in the long poem "A Genealogy of the Word," prefaced with a James Baldwin quote ("People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them"). I was very excited by this collection because it was so vivid and different from many poetry collections I've read lately--both structurally and content-wise. It feels to cliche to say that Brown makes Fanny come to life, but she really does and I love how poetry was the vehicle to make that happen.

-Jeffery Berg

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