“The Inner Life of Midwesterners Rarely Spoken: A Review of Marc Frazier’s Willingly” By Chase Dimock

 

 

The Inner Life of Midwesterners Rarely Spoken:

A Review of Marc Frazier’s Willingly

 By Chase Dimock

 

     In the poem “Iterations” Marc Frazier claims “There is no limit to the times a poet can mention the body.” Frazier’s latest book Willingly is true to his own words as nearly every poem is about inhabiting a body or the embodiment of ideas and emotions:

this body that stirs, or fails to
this barely defined shoulder
my body beside someone’s but not yet yours.

Frazier’s bodies are sites of memory, pain, desire, and the hope of transcendence through sensual connection with other bodies. These bodies are both familiar and alienating: his own body ranging from childhood to middle age, the alternately tender or cold bodies of lovers and objects of desire, and the bodies of his family members wracked with mental illness and the ravages of old age. Thus, Willingly is about how bodies are shaped by their environment, nurtured or neglected by family and community, and legible through scars:

Body, exhausted by metaphor–limited, earthbound.
Words can’t capture how it falters, breaks,
how there may be something more.

Words cannot capture a body in the sense that capturing means possessing and immobilizing it the way the possessiveness of desire sometimes wishes we could. But as a poet, Frazier’s words can depict the impressions of the body in motion, the way it ages, cowers in pain, and yearns for the touch of others.

      Frazier begins his collection with the poem “little death; dissociative identity,” which sets the tone for his subsequent explorations of identity and desire. I imagine “little death” as a reference to the French “la petite mort,” a term that refers to the after effects of an orgasm. As the majority of the poems intersperse recollections of his dysfunctional family and meditations on his sexuality from childhood to present, the idea of sex culminating in a small death frames this relationship between his identity as a gay man and his upbringing in the midwest. The pleasures of the body mean that a part of him must die: namely the lingering trauma of a childhood that shamed his queerness as a man and an artist.

      In “Synopsis” Frazier gives us exactly that: a run down of his infancy to manhood: “mother threatens to kill me during the seventh month of my life… mother is admitted for insulin and electro-shock therapies…I have to survive my father a difficult battle to win.” Living with a mentally ill mother and a stern Catholic father adds up: 

I live as a person
divided
the religious youth
and the man
cruising men
my fragile self fueled
by porn alcohol

While an upbringing does not determine one’s sexual orientation, it does heavily inform how one navigates their sexuality and what they want to get through it. By alternating poems about his family from the nostalgic to the traumatic with poems about his loves and lusts, Frazier’s poetry investigates how the wounds of the past drive us to heal through desires of the flesh. 

        All discussions of sexual desire carry the stigma of taboo in our culture, yet Frazier’s poetry is unafraid to be vulnerable and confessional. His work is especially brave because he does not merely reveal erotic desires, but also the pain of rejection, the lingering feelings of inadequacy, and the moral ambiguity of his sexual past. In two back to back poems, “Without Words” and “Sergio”, Frazier connects his difficult relationship with his mother to a failed romantic relationship. Addressing his mother, he writes: “Even now, I stiffen when you hug me,/ frozen in an infant’s body”. Through poetry, he attempts to find healing for his trauma:

Each word I write aims to uncover the damage,
to express trauma that happens before language

But a body remembers what happened.
How I want to surrender, to let you reach me:

My body’s wanting to love is not the same as loving
though wanting to be loved is the same as loving

The problem of wanting to love and be loved in a traumatized body that cannot process or receive love as the mind wants emerges as well in Frazier’s poems about sexuality. In these poems, he explores the dual nature of sex: the sensual and the carnal. I was particularly struck by some of the poems in which he positions the carnal as a reaction to the frustrations and disappointments in trying to make a sensual, romantic connection. In “Without You” he writes:

I bring bodies alive with a quarter
        Watch them laboring
Like pistons and cylinders,
        Without sound

To unlearn the beauty of you
        the pornography does best

When a body he loved slips away, he responds with a carnal possession of another, virtual body he can always control. In “Sergio” this reactionary attitude is echoed as he writes “the more I have sex, the more I get even.” It’s brave to explore this unflattering, yet all too human and universal aspect of frustrated desire. 

      Despite the strong focus on a traumatized past and painfully honest poems about the darker and stickier elements of desire, Frazier’s book still maintains a certain level of optimism in the promise of sensual connection through bodies. In these poems, he crafts some of his most beautiful images and lines. In “Architecture” he writes

I hear each cell crave to be more
my desire to be less
anchored deep in the kiln of your chest

In “Heart Tide” Frazier writes of the hope for transcendence through vulnerability:

My clear heart rests in your hand
                  beyond death’s fingers
                  It holds itself, freed of geography and time.

That line beautifully sums up the aspirations of Frazier’s book. We recover traumas through the body. We feel the pain of shame, rejection, and frustration through the body. But at moments, bodies can intertwine and transcend the damage of the past and the physical constraints of the present. There are indeed no limits to the times a poet can mention the body, and through poetry we reshape and we rethink the bodies we inhabit each time they are mentioned.

 

Willingly is available from Adelaide Books

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, New Mexico Review, Faultline, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, and San Pedro River Review among othersFor more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country

A Review of Jumping Bridges in Technicolor by Mike James

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

 

“Hearts Break All the Time” By Jeanette Powers

 

 

Hearts Break All the Time

I remember the gnarled hands
of my grandfather
working the rotary dial
of the old goldenrod yellow
Ma Bell telephone
calling the hospital
where my grandmother lay
waiting to have her chest cracked
for a double bypass

heartbreak was not new to her

I hung my fingertips
on the tall bureau with the phone
and the lazy susan with her fake pearls
watching him talk and listening
I love you, Helen
I’d never heard him say that before
tears fell down through the stubble of his cheeks
they were the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen

his hand always trembled for a cigarette
and it did then too

they are decades gone now
just like land lines and my youth

the doctor is earnest
reading my genome results
tells me I can’t absorb folic acid
or Vitamin D, my liver is weak
and that no matter how healthy I am
a heart attack is sure

I’ve already had several
I assure her with a smile

she doesn’t laugh
but I’m hoping I’m just like my grandmother.

 

About the Author: Jeanette Powers: poet, painter, philosopher, professional party dancer and working class, anarchist, non-binary queer. Here to be radically peaceful, they are a founding member of Kansas City’s annual small press poetry fest, FountainVerse. Powers is also the brawn behind Stubborn Mule Press. They have seven full length poetry books and have been published often online and  print journals. Find more at jeanettepowers.com and @novel_cliche

 

More By Jeanette Powers:

Reflections in the Windows of Your First Car

Cycles of Grief Go On And On

“Move On” By John Grey

 

 

MOVE ON

The day of moving approaches.
We’ve already started packing
and what doesn’t go into boxes
ends up in the head’s storage space –
the wallpaper, the radiators, the hardwood floors,
the backyard maple, the birds’ nests,
even the neighborhood itself.

Soon enough, everything
we see outside the window will be new.
Every block we walk
will be up to its treetops and chimney flues
in novelty.

We’ll struggle to hold onto
the ones we once knew
even as others
do their best
to shove them aside,
take their places.

Before true assimilation,
we’ll be some of what we were,
some of what we’re to become.

We’ve done this before.
We’ll do this again.
We’re transient by nature.
People and things,
places and scenery –
at any one time,
only so many truly fit.

But. at least, we have each other.
That is, until we don’t.

 

About the Author: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in
That, Muse, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming
in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.

 

Image Credit: Arthur Rothstein “Unpacking new furniture at Fairfield Bench Farms, Montana” (1939) The Library of Congress

“The Great Thing About Driving With a Crack in Your Windshield” By Alex Z. Salinas

 

The Great Thing About Driving With a Crack in Your Windshield 

Definitely not the beating your wallet will take later,
nooooo

But a year of cracked-windshield driving—
a big ol’ crack straight through the center

Separating North and South Windshield—
let me tell ya,

After 12 months of 8-to-5 beatings,
boss naggings and fickle office alliances,

That crack remains strong and growing,
centimeter by centimeter, like a small child

Some days when you gaze at it
you can’t help but smile 

Like the scar on your forearm,
that crack is your crack and your crack alone—

Your slash of stubbornness 
in a world spun by fat hamsters

When you drive
most days you don’t even notice it

You forget it’s there,
that beautiful crack, 

Glistening like a brilliant diamond
when the sun hits it juuuuust right

 

About the Author: Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Mary’s University. His poetry has appeared in the San Antonio Express-News, Shot Glass Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, Duane’s PoeTree, The Dope Fiend Daily, and in the San Antonio Review, where he serves as poetry editor. His short fiction has appeared in publications such as Every Day Fiction, Mystery Tribune, Red Fez, Nanoism, escarp, 101 Words, and 365tomorrows.

 

Photo Credit: “Truck Windshield with Hail Damage in OK” from the FEMA Photo Library

“When Cancer Comes to Evansville Indiana” By Jason Baldinger

 

 

When Cancer Comes to Evansville Indiana

she says they stayed 
in casinos every night
they ate like kings
steaks, all you can eat crab legs
the best pork chops she ever had

she shovels mashed potatoes
with white gravy in her mouth
asks when the waitress’s surgery is
they speak in hushed tones
the conversation breaks down
into promises of future prayers

when cancer comes to Evansville Indiana
mortality is another strong wind
lost in the yellow flowers
that stain the fields here every May

mortality is just another wave on the Ohio

 

About the Author: Jason Baldinger is a poet from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He was recently a Writer in Residence at Osage Arts Community, and is founder and co-director of The Bridge Series. He has multiple books available including the soon to be released The Better Angels of our Nature (Kung Fu Treachery) and the split books The Ugly Side of the Lake with John Dorsey (Night Ballet Press) as well as Little Fires Hiding with James Benger (Kung Fu Treachery Press). His work has been published widely in print journals and online. You can listen to him read his work on Bandcamp on lps by the bands Theremonster and The Gotobeds.

 

Photo Credit: Arthur Rothstein “Truck driver in diner. Clinton, Indiana” (1940) The Library of Congress

“Homework on Uranus” By Nathan Graziano

 

Homework on Uranus

I am washing the dinner dishes while my son,
shoulders slumped at the kitchen table, groans

about his science homework while my wife
waits with the patience of a beach stone

beside him, tapping a pen and pointing 
at his assignment. “Concentrate,” she says.

My son moans like a beaten dog then starts 
reading his assignment and begins laughing.

“Dad, this article says that Uranus is a ‘gas giant.’”
He buckles over, grabbing his gut, hysterical. 

My wife glares at me, a laser beam of derision,
hoping against hope that I’d be the father-figure,

explaining to my twelve-year old son that Uranus jokes
are sophomoric, that he needs to concentrate

on his school work and not succumb bathroom humor
or fatuous planet puns and concentrate, son. 

Concentrate. Instead, I drop the pot I’m drying 
and haw, a hearty guffaw. “Uranus is a gas giant!” I say.

My son blows a raspberry on his forearm, tears
streaming down his cheeks, and my wife stands up.

“I’m done. You help him with this,” she says to me
and leaves the kitchen, leaving my son and me, both

in middle school, giving wedgies in the locker room,
pulling fingers in class, laughing in the face of maturity.  

 

About the Author: Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, with his wife and kids. His books include Teaching Metaphors (Sunnyoutside Press), After the Honeymoon (Sunnyoutside Press) Hangover Breakfasts (Bottle of Smoke Press in 2012), Sort Some Sort of Ugly (Marginalia Publishing in 2013), and My Next Bad Decision (Artistically Declined Press, 2014), Almost Christmas, a collection of short prose pieces, was recently published by Redneck Press. Graziano writes a baseball column for Dirty Water Media in Boston. For more information, visit his website: www.nathangraziano.com.

 

More By Nathan Graziano:

Explaining Depression To My Cousin

Punchline

 

Image Credit: Photo of Uranus from NASA. Public Domain

“One For Cory” By Damian Rucci

 

 

One For Cory

I heard your brother
is down in the boonies
living in chicken shacks

hooked on the same shit
that took the air from your lungs

and left another son
without a father

will it ever end?

will the damned
be forsaken?
will you call me
again at 3 am looking to score?

The other night at McDonough’s Pub
I saw the old crew
we talked about you
and we never talked about you
when you died
we just let it haunt us

the boys are looking for more
to green grasses in other places
that don’t stink of poverty and death

the garden state
has more poppies than orchids
all the roses I’ve known
have bled and broken
trying to make it out
of the concrete

sometimes I smile
hoping that somewhere in celestial solace
you are on a stage that isn’t in drug court
that you’re singing and free again

that you finally learned the guitar

Cory I pray that somewhere
you are eighteen forever
that, that beautiful smile
never leaves your face

and you never know pain again

 

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About the Author: Damian Rucci’s work has recently appeared in Cultural Weekly, Beatdom, Big Hammer, and coffee shops and basements across the country. He is an author of three chapbooks and a split Former Lives of Saints with Ezhno Martin. Damian hosted the Poetry in the Port reading series, currently hosts the Belle Ringer Open Mic and is a poet in residence at the Osage Arts Community in Belle, Missouri. He can be reached at damian.rucci@gmail.com

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More by Damian Rucci: 

Melancholy & The Afterglow

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Image Credit: Thomas J Flagg “VIEW NORTHEAST- DETAIL OF BRIDGE TRUSSES, NEW TRACK SHOWN ADJACENT TO BRIDGE”  (1995) The Library of Congress