Each day in April, in honor of National Poetry Month and our third anniversary issue (find out how to get a copy HERE), we are running an interview with a poet who has been published in Gyroscope Review. Read on.
National Poetry Month Interview Series: Interview with Poet Alexis Rhone Fancher
How will you celebrate National Poetry Month? My fourth book, a chapbook entitled Junkie Wife, will be published in March 2018 by Moon Tide Press. I’ll spend National Poetry Month promoting it in venues across Los Angeles and Northern California.
Pen, pencil or computer first? Desktop computer. If I’m not at my desk, I write “Notes” on my iPhone, which I can access from my desktop. I haven’t handwritten anything but an occasional scrawled idea or two in decades!
Who/what are your influences? I studied with the great poet/mentor Jack Grapes for four years. He taught me to read critically, and with an open mind. I read Catullus as often as I read Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, or Matthew Dickman. Lately I’m enamored of Rebecca Faust, Jillian Weise, Tony Hoagland, Tony Gloeggler, Jenn Givhan, Ocean Vuong, Lee Rossi, Michelle Bitting, and Ada Limon. The city of Los Angeles is a huge presence in my poems. Since moving back to the beach after four years in a downtown L.A. loft space, writing city-driven poems, nature has re-entered my poems in a big way.
What topic is the hardest for you to write about and why? Writing about my dead son is hardest, and yet I keep writing “those” poems. I feel compelled. My chapbook about his death, State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, was published in 2015 by KYSO Flash Press. But still, the poems come. The hard part is slipping back out of that “grief state” I must put myself in, in order to write the poem authentically. It’s tricky. And doesn’t always work. Stay out of your head! I tell myself. It’s a bad neighborhood!
What was the worst writing idea you ever had? Updating a chapbook I wrote in 2010. It didn’t work then, and even after the update, my publisher wasn’t impressed. The idea is good, though. I might bonfire the ms. and begin again…
What authors do you love right now? On my nightstand, poetry books by: Tiana Clark, Lynne Knight, Jack Gilbert, Ocean Vuong, Ace Boggess, Frank O’Hara, Michelle Bitting. I received a signed copy of L.A. novelist, Janet Fisk’s latest novel, The Revolution of Marina M. for Christmas. Janet’s first novel, White Oleander, has long been a favorite of mine.
What is the most important role of poets in 2018? To be a light and a mirror. To write the truth. To be fearless.
Where do you go when you need to recharge? I meditate each morning. Exercise, getting out of my head and into my body, is also key. And my spectacular spouse is an expert at helping me recharge. I live a mile from the beach; a beachwalk is very restorative. If all else fails, Big Sur is my favorite destination.
What is your favorite end-of-the-day drink? Coconut water. If I’m drinking, I’m a fool for Macallan single malt whisky, or Glenmorangie Scotch. I’ve developed a taste as well for a Japanese whisky called Hibiki.
Alexis Rhone Fancher lives in San Pedro, California (Los Angeles). Her most recent publication is ENTER HERE (KYSO Flash Press, 2017). (Editor’s note: Gyroscope Review published a review of her book in 2017 HERE.) Visit Alexis’ website: www.alexisrhonefancher.com.
Enter Here: poems by Alexis Rhone Fancher. Published by KYSO Flash Press, Seattle, 2017. Soft cover, 112 p., $18.00.
In January of 2016, Gyroscope Review published an interview with Los Angeles poet and photographer Alexis Rhone Fancher. Rhone Fancher’s unapologetic, sharp work graced the pages of our issue 16-1 and I’ve been enchanted with her ever since. When I read that her new book, Enter Here, was available, I ordered it immediately.
My fascination with Rhone Fancher’s work holds because of her strong voice and her willingness to take on the sordid details that many keep secret about sexuality in all its nuances, power between women and men, abuse of power/sexuality, what women learn from an early age, the joy of being a dirty girl, the dangers of being intimate. And, as I read the poems in Enter Here, I was overwhelmed with my own reactions to the work. This book is explicit. It is not for everyone. But it is well worth stepping outside of whatever your comfort zone may be as it nudges the reader to consider the power structures that constrict us even at our most intimate level.
I decided the best way to share this with you is to offer my raw notes about this book. You’ll see why. Stay with me.
1. The photo of the turnstile at Pershing Square Metro Station that kicks off the poems in this book – Okay, I’m ready to go for a fast ride beneath the surface of things. Do I have enough tokens to ride to the end?
2. Complicated. Complications. These poems are one, filled with the other. When they rocket me back to the ugly uncertainty of female adolescence with all that attention from others who want to claim my body, I’m not sure I like it. Funny, I sometimes liked it back then, when I was naïve. See: Daddy’s Friend, Stan, p. 18-19
Shhh! he soothes when I whimper,
afraid he’s gone too far.
He thumbs the fabric instead of me,
whistles the theme from
3. These women who only seem to do what men want – they’re playing them as much as they’re getting played. See: Spreading My Legs for Someone (Posing for Pirelli), p. 25-26.
I slipped off my dress.
Kept my stilettos.
Why don’t I own stilettos? Oh, yeah. They hurt my feet if I try to go anywhere. Might be handy as an ice pick.
4. I don’t use the word pudenda enough. It’s meaty. It makes me purse my lips. See: Tuesday Nights, Room 28 of the Royal Motel on Little Santa Monica, p. 29-30.
5. There! The book title is buried in the poem Tattooed Girl in a Sheer, White Blouse (Sushi Bar Fantasy) on p. 31-32. It takes a while to figure out where to enter anything. Figures this line that finally says enter here is in the middle of everything. Figures the entrance it refers is hidden, private, capable of great things, desirable. Is that tattooed girl the same one in the following poem? Does it matter? What about the one in Tattooed Girl: Slice/Shokunin on p. 59? I’m a slightly tattooed girl. Hmm. This fascination with tattooed girls – is this about the willingness to put so much right on the surface? Or is it the way the skin is covered up even when clothes are off?
6. In Tonight I Dream of Angelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rule of the Road… on p. 38, I zero in on this:
I admit, I’ve always been driven to sin.
And yet it’s all for love, we later learn. But love for whom?
7. Boy toys, sad waitresses, sisters. From For the Sad Waitress at the Diner in Barstow, p. 44-45:
the cruel sun throws her inertia in her face.
this is what regret looks like.
Regret haunts us, slowly kills us, doesn’t it? How do we forgive ourselves let alone anyone else?
8. I was right about stilettos having other uses. See: Stiletto Killer…a Surmise, p. 48.
9. See: Tonight I Dream of My First True Love (Ménage à Trois), p. 53:
I see what I’m not meant to see: I am disposable, nothing more than a deep hole.
Oh, I love that the narrator saw is what is eventually going to save her. Get out now!! If only we could teach our daughters how to see like this and redefine themselves as a result, be Wonder Women.
10. A nod to Joan Didion – what Los Angeles writer would miss the opportunity? Nice to see you here, Joan, in the cento, Play It As It Lays, p. 60-61. You’re still relevant.
11. Ex-husbands and ex-lovers: what have we learned? See: Tonight I Dream of My Second Ex-Husband, Who Played Piano Better than Herbie Hand-Cock, p. 67:
Why does the fantasy always best real life?
See also: Out of Body, p. 68:
Riddle: when is a promise like a bayonet?
And then see: Because He Used to Love Her. A Story in Photographs and Senryu, p. 69-73:
her hair like a whip
torturing him now, but once
he did worship her
All of it cuts our hearts out. All of it leaves big fat scars.
12. For Lynnie in the Dark, p. 76-77: Required reading. The abrupt ending that defines an abusive relationship.
For Lynn Cutolo who was murdered on October 3, 2007, by her husband. See: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?n=lynn-cutolo-richards&pid=96516634
13. I Was Hovering Just Below the Hospital Ceiling, Contemplating My Death, p. 79. Not sure what got to me more about this poem – the way the poems talks about unexpected loss and the unwillingness to let go, the author’s note on the next page that explains the poem’s origins, or the author’s statement that this is the first time she’s gotten this story right. Car wrecks and their aftermath are not something you can neatly tie up and put away. The last line will take your breath away. No spoilers here.
14. This book moves from being a young girl to a woman with ex-husbands, back to the young girl memories, zooms back up to womanhood, back and forth, forward and backward, rocking/rocky rhythm. Lovers of all types. And then there’s Housekeeping, p. 85:
I love you like the Swiffer loves
the dust, deeply, with an
Not the memory of an 18-year-old. But this funny little piece is the perfect spot for timid romantics, who aren’t sure about explicit poetry, to enter this collection. You, buttoned-down person, this is your door. Get on board.
15. Osculation – another word I never use. Why is that? Kissing, after all, has been overdone.
16. And the light slips away as the train nears the end. We exit with this small rain (no title case intentional) on p. 100-101. We all search for salvation wherever we can:
this small rain kamikazes
in the gutter
suicides on summer sidewalks
dreams of a deluge
that overflows the river banks
washes L.A. clean
Power. Abuse. Sex. Why are they so intertwined for humans? Savvy girls learn early how to navigate their way among them as a means of survival, how to wield their own power when they can. Sometimes joy and respect are elusive, knocked out of reach by other things that masquerade as the same. How long that road is to genuine love.
How well Alexis Rhone Fancher splays out, in all their raw and messy explicitness, the deceptively tempting detours.
Be brave. Step into this book.
– Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, Co-Editor, Gyroscope Review
If you are interested in hearing some of these poems as well as pieces from other books by Alexis Rhone Fancher, visit http://www.alexisrhonefancher.com/audio/ .
To order a copy of Enter Here, click here.
GR: Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, where you write, and why poetry?
ARF: A life-long Los Angeleno, I’ve lived all over L.A. county, including a childhood in the wilds of Topanga, and a decade on the beach in Venice. These days, my husband and I live and work in an 8th floor, 2,000 sq. foot loft/studio in downtown Los Angeles, where I write on my iMac computer. I write poetry because I am a minimalist at heart and take pleasure in telling stories that are reduced to their bare bones, stories that have room for the reader to step inside.
GR: Who, or what, are your poetical influences?
ARF: Influences include Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Matthew Dickman, Karl Shapiro, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Anne Sexton, Thomas Tranströmer, Wislawa Szymborska, Edward Field, Louise Glück, and e.e. cummings. I studied for five years with the poet Jack Grapes, who taught me practically everything I know about writing.
GR: How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?
ARF: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I have the form in my head before I’ve written a word, sometimes the poem decides. But usually I play around with form, writing a poem in various ways until it feels “right.”
GR: What is your writing process like?
ARF: I’m a creature of habit. Up and writing daily by 6 a.m., a huge mug of French Roast coffee within reach. I write a minimum of four hours a day. First drafts are often long, and include pages of notes and (sometimes) research. The poem begins to take shape around the third or fourth draft. Then it goes to my peer editor. After she edits the poem it goes to my paid editor, who may put the poem through up to a dozen drafts before we consider it finished.
GR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?
ARF: No writers groups these days, just the editing process mentioned above. I’ve taken my share of classes and workshops, but find my time best spent working one on one.
GR: What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?
ARF: I’m a great fan of narrative poetry, a fool for a well-told story. I look for the “zinger” at the end of a poem – that ‘aha moment’ when a chill runs through me, along with a tinge of jealousy, because I wish I’d written it. I want to read poems that move me, change me in some magical way. Favorite poets include: Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gerald Locklin, Sharon Olds, Louise Glück, Jeffrey McDaniel, Richard Jones, Frank O’Hara, Rita Dove, Francesca Bell, Mark Strand, Tony Gloeggler, Carolyn Forché, and Laura Kasischke, to name but a few.
GR: What is the most important role for poets today?
ARF: Poets hold up a mirror to society. At our best, we reduce life to digestible morsels, bits of insight and reflection, served up as poems.
GR: Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?
ARF: I’m a fool for live poetry! In December I was at the Orpheum Theatre for the launch of Patti Smith’s new book, M Train. She read. She sang. She was brilliant; she’s been a hero of mine for decades. Sharon Olds recently wowed me at the Hammer Museum, where Louise Glück had astonished me the year before. I’m a big fan of local poets who are also performers, especially Nicelle Nicelle, Rich Ferguson, Rick Lupert, Michael C. Ford, Brendan Constantine, Laurel Ann Bogen, Linda J. Albertano, and the always brilliant Suzanne Lummis, who sparkles on stage as no other. World Stage artist, Conney Williams, is another poet I try never to miss.
GR: Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?
ARF: My latest book, a full-length collection of erotic poems, Enter Here, has just begun the poetry contest rounds. I’m working on two chapbooks, Gidget Goes To The Ghetto, and Junkie Wife. And a coffee table book of my photos of over 50 Southern California poets is in the works.
GR: What other interests do you have beyond literature?
ARF: I have a monthly photo column in Cultural Weekly, (http://www.culturalweekly.com), “The Poet’s Eye,” in which I explore the streets of Los Angeles with my lens. Photography is one of three passions in my life. The other two being poetry (of course) and my delicious husband, Fancher, who, after almost sixteen years together, still makes my heart sing.
GR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work.
ARF: You can find out more about me at: alexisrhonefancher.com
Or find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alexis.fancher
Both my books, How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen & other heart stab poems, and State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, are available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com
Editor’s note: Alexis’s poems, “Daylight Savings Won’t Save Us”, “Never Forget Why Your Wrist Throbs”, and “When You Think You’re Ready to Pack Up Your Grief” appear in Gyroscope Review Issue 16-1, Winter 2016.