Duets, a collection of paired ekphrastic poems by Cynthia Atkins and Alexis Rhone Fancher inspired by photos by Alexis Rhone Fancher, will transfix and transport you. These poems are not static descriptions of images but use the photos as launching pads from which to explore new worlds both beyond the frame and from the writers’ deep interior histories. We are pleased to share this review of Duets by Robert Kostuck.
Elya Braden, Assistant Editor
by Cynthia Atkins & Alexis Rhone Fancher
Harbor Editions. 2022. 46 pages. ISBN 978-1-7359090-8-0
Reviewed by Robert Kostuck
“Our work has benefited from our mutual respect for our individual aesthetics, our beautiful sisterhood, and our friendship. The title, Duets, seemed to come naturally, as has every aspect of this collaboration—writing about family, love, loss, sex, death, pain, and healing.” “Alexis has taken thousands of exquisite photographs over the course of her life, and we realized we had a plethora of choices. That’s how Duets began. The result is ten photographs and a poem from each of us.”—Cynthia Atkins
Duets Review by Robert Kostuck
It is a truism that opposites attract. Cynthia Atkins and Alexis Rhone Fancher are so far apart on a circle that they meet on the other side. There is a temptation to highlight the stylistic differences before the undercurrent of similarities become apparent. A successful collaboration is always an effortless process, as this collection exemplifies. While much ekphrastic poetry depends on traditional western art imagery and can be hackneyed and trite, the key words defining this collection are honesty and reality.
Skirting but never touching didacticism, these two poets perform a pas-de-deux of unique languages and vocabulary. The success of good writing lies in the connection between the stories we are reading, and the stories we are being told. How they come to us as a single unit is simultaneously refreshing, challenging, and threatening.
We aren’t getting any younger. I want things settled, tidy, but she won’t budge. I hope to God I die first, I tell her. Leave you with all the chaos. She laughs. Don’t be naïve, she says. There is no God. (Fancher, “Roadkill, San Pedro”)
I’ve learned recovery depends on the thrifty pockets of grief. Before me, all the women catching a floor-length gown on fire, burning houses down. (Atkins, “Contronym Diner”)
Here the ekphrastic is the trigger or impetus for personal experience. The texts are one hundred percent statement, and interpretations take many forms—the reader is forcefully invited to align the work with their own experiences. If the reader is honest with themselves—and these poems challenge that honesty—an often daunting interior monologue R.S.V.P. follows.
Little motes of silence trip the air, my lips are hugging the voice. The chatter of teeth. Make yourself naked, make yourself null. Make yourself small as a toothpick in his teeth, with shoes like daggers. (Atkins, “Diminution, 11 AM”)
You should know better, my sister says. There are no rescuers anymore. (Fancher, “We Are All Hopper Paintings Now”)
These pieces reflect the inspirational images, yet the work also reaches through and beyond to landscapes that are bleak, sterile, and Arctic white, or riots of tropical quetzal possibilities. The dictum ‘don’t tell, show’ is apparent, and like good theater, the reader effortlessly suspends their disbelief. One forgets one is reading a poem.
The barking dog’s owner has been evicted. No one to bark at, anyway. Sometimes I miss the din. I can’t believe I wrote that. (Fancher, “Self-Quarantine Day 240”) Nocturnes in the moon light, where people are singing Acapella out their windows. Stitch by stitch, we pick up where we left off. Now file this under biblical or epic—Our daily rituals parted like an ocean. (Atkins, “Social Distancing”)
This chapbook is a page-turner. It hooks and refuses to let go. Highly recommended for the intellectual, the spiritual, and the adventurous reader alike.
Duets – Harbor Editions. 2022. 46 pages. ISBN 978-1-7359090-8-0
Connect with the authors
Still-Life With God a book by Cynthia Atkins, Lisa Telling Kattenbraker, and Ron Starbuck (bookshop.org)
@catkinspoet (twitter) cynthis.atkins1 (instagram) cynthia.atkins6 (facebook)
Alexis Rhone Fancher
Alexis Rhone Fancher is published in Best American Poetry, Rattle,Verse Daily, The American
Journal of Poetry, Plume, Diode, Flock, and elsewhere. She’s authored nine poetry collections,
most recently, DUETS (Small Harbor), Stiletto Killer (Edizone Italia) and EROTIC: New &
Selected (NYQ Books). BRAZEN, her next full-length collection, again from NYQ Books,
will publish in early March, 2023. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee,
Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Daily. www.alexisrhonefancher.com
Other Gyroscope Review Book Reviews
Household Gods by Bonnie Proudfoot
Erotic by Alexis Rhone Fancher
Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3:00 a.m. by Sarah Bigham
Daphne and her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge