Beth Ann Fennelly: Poetics of the Personal

Here’s Beth Ann Fennelly reading from “The Kudzu Chronicles” —


And here’s what Hannah has to say about her:

Beth Ann Fennelly was born in New Jersey, May 22, 1971, and raised in Lake Forest, IL. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, she taught English in a coal mining village on the Czech/polish border. Once she returned to the states, she earned her Masters of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of Arkansas. She published her first book, A Different Kind of Hunger, in 1997, which won the 1997 Texas review Breakthrough Award, and was the first of many awards for her to receive. She has published three books of poetry, all of which are easy to understand and vary in genres. However, she usually writes autobiographical narrative and lyrical poems. Like Dickinson, she typically writes for herself, many of her poems speaking about the love she has for her child, and the intimacies of motherhood. In an interview she speaks of being scoffed at and being sent hate mail for one of her poems in which she speaks of kissing her infant daughter “wetly on the mouth” and that she believes that “In some ways motherhood is one of our last safe taboos and is still very much on a pedestal.” In this way, I believe that she is writing very much like Walt Whitman here, because she is trying to make a statement about the sensuality of motherhood that most women seem to be afraid to admit having. Unlike Campbell McGrath, Fennelly embraces free-style forms and abstract qualities in her poetry. Fennelly lists Shakespeare, John Donne, Elizabeth Bishop, and Marianne Moore as her top influences, as well as her husband, fiction writer Tom Franklin, whom she says is her “first reader” and that it is “a wonderful thing to share.”

3 thoughts on “Beth Ann Fennelly: Poetics of the Personal

  1. lauren February 29, 2012 / 7:58 pm

    I Need to Be More French. Or Japanese.
    by Beth Ann Fennelly

    Then I wouldn’t prefer the California wine,
    its big sugar, big fruit rolling down my tongue,
    a cornucopia spilled across a tacky tablecloth.
    I’d prefer the French, its smoke and rot.
    Said Cézanne: Le monde—c’est terrible!
    Which means, The world—it bites the big weenie.
    People sound smarter in French.
    The Japanese prefer the crescent moon to the full,
    prefer the rose before it blooms.
    Oh, I have been to the temples of Kyoto,
    I have stood on the Pont Neuf, and my eyes,
    they drank it in, but my taste buds
    shuffled along in the beer line at Wrigley Field.
    It was the day they gave out foam fingers.
    I hereby pledge to wear more gray, less yellow
    of the beaks of baby mockingbirds,
    that huge yellow yawping open on wobbly necks,
    trusting something yummy will be dropped inside,
    soon. I hereby pledge to be reserved.
    When the French designer learned
    I didn’t like her mockups for my book cover,
    she sniffed, They’re not for everyone. They’re
    subtle. What area code is 662 anyway? I said,
    Mississippi, sweetheart. Bet you couldn’t find it
    with a map. Okay: I didn’t really. But so what
    if I’m subtle as May in Mississippi, my nose
    in the wine-bowl of this magnolia bloom, so what
    if I’m mellow as the punch-drunk bee.
    If I were Japanese I’d write about magnolias
    in March, how tonal, each bud long as a pencil,
    sheathed in celadon suede, jutting from a cluster
    of glossy leaves. I’d end the poem before anything
    bloomed, end with rain swelling the buds
    and the sheaths bursting, then falling to the grass
    like a fairy’s castoff slippers, like candy wrappers,
    like spent firecrackers. Yes, my poem
    would end there, spent firecrackers.
    If I were French, I’d capture post-peak, in July,
    the petals floppy, creased brown with age,
    the stamens naked, stripped of yellow filaments.
    The bees lazy now, bungling the ballet, thinking
    for the first time about October. If I were French,
    I’d prefer this, end with the red-tipped filaments
    scattered on the scorched brown grass,
    and my poem would incite the sophisticated,
    the French and the Japanese readers—
    because the filaments look like matchsticks,
    and it’s matchsticks, we all know, that start the fire.

    When I look at the poem above, listen to the youtube poem we heard, and think about the poem this woman dedicated to her child I realized that it all sounds alike. When I read or listen to her work, more than likely I can tell that it is her voice. While I do not like her as a person, I do like her work. Sometimes her poems don’t make sense as a whole, but the descriptions are very earthy, very vibrant, and I can tell what’s going on only in that moment. But once I move past it, I forget about it. My own poems tend to be narrative, the reader leaves knowing what I am trying to say usually. I finish the poem knowing what I am trying to say. My descriptions aren’t vibrant, but in a way, they can be very, very grungy—which isn’t bad.

  2. Liam March 2, 2012 / 8:54 pm

    Beth is bold.

    She has this strength to her voice that I really admire. I want that strength: I work for it.

    Her poetry is lush and vivid. She writes of things usually left unwritten. She shows you through her poetry experiences, details and other things that you may have not seen. But you can see everything clearly because she makes it so.

    I can not say that my aesthetic is very similar to Beth’s but I can say that I do admire it: quite a bit.

    She is more clear, more precise, more fine tuned in her poetic voice.

    I am more vague, I hide some things from my reader’s view because I often write poetry for myself rather than an audience.

    She is more interested in external reality than I am. I am more interested in internal reality, the dynamics of emotion, thoughts and fears. I like abstract and often bizarre imagery in my poetry.

    I do believe we share the common drive to discover more from life. I also think that my poetry could have the capacity to morph into something more similar to Fenelly’s. I don’t limit myself. I want to play with my poetry and maybe try writing more externally involved poems. It can give your poetry this strength that I feel mine lacks. It can shock, it can surprise and enlighten. I want to do all of these things.

    I am a loving person. I can often cross lines that others do not. I am not afraid to show who I really am. I think those are the main similarities between Fenelly and I and I think it impacts both of our work and for the better.

  3. liv March 8, 2012 / 12:11 pm

    I definitely agree with Liam. Beth Ann’s poems are so lively and bold. The verbs she uses tumble over each other to create amazing scenes. I also love how stark straight forward her work can be. I don’t feel like there’s a bunch a fluff in between, it’s pretty concise.

    I don’t think I can say that my writing is a lot like hers but it’s definitely fair to day that I would like my writing to go more in the direction that hers leans towards. I would like to see my poetry become more concise and maybe even stark. I do however feel like my writing is like hers in the sense that she (at least in my opinion) writes for an audience. She uses broad descriptions and has relatable topics. I feel like I share that trait with her.

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