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Death of a Ventriloquist (Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry) Paperback – February 13, 2012
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“What drives the poems in this wonderfully animated debut volume and prompts the reader’s pleasure in them is the patent honesty of the poet’s voice. In the ‘ventriloquist’ series itself, Fay-LeBlanc creates a remarkable refracted self-portrait, bristling with moments of unabashed illumination.”—Eamon Grennan, author of Out of Sight
“In the words of visual artist Paul Klee, whose synaesthetically suggestive work inspires this manuscript, ‘art doesn’t reproduce what we can see, it makes it visible.’ The turf of these poems is a ‘vision country’ in which our narrator / ventriloquist makes visible (and audible) the world to which he restlessly attends, offering up the ‘voices’ of everything. Formally deft, these poems address the limits and grace of lyric poetry.”—Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Satin Cash and judge
“Whether he’s overhearing a conversation in a tavern or the music stuck in his head, Fay-LeBlanc uses his ventriloquist to raise important questions about how we perform ourselves through language. The tension thatpermeates his poetry—what is seen and unseen, said and eavesdropped, true and trickery—culminates in a debut that rings out long after Fay-LeBlanc’s lips stop moving.”—Publishers Weekly starred review
About the Author
GIBSON FAY-LeBLANC’s poems have appeared in magazines including Guernica, The New Republic, and Poetry Northwest. In 2011 he was named one of Maine’s “emerging leaders” by the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media for his work directing The Telling Room, where he still occasionally teaches writing. He lives with his family in Portland, Maine.
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Rejecting contemporary poetry because it is unfamiliar is like rejecting French because it isn't English.
That being said, Fay-LeBlanc's book is challenging. In fact, it is unusually challenging for most academically oriented contemporary verse. But it is also rich and strong. Like most contemporary poets, Gibson accepts the challenge to make poetry of everything. His poetic eye is open every day of his life. Also, like much contemporary verse, his poems usually include a second character. There are real people here; I especially appreciate his willingness to unfold the history of his courtship and his experience of being a father. Many young, male poets are boldly writing their responses to Plath's "Daddy" from the standpoint of the father: as frightened, as challenged, as puzzled, as irrationally proud as any child has been of their mysterious father. I also enjoy the fact that Fay-LeBlanc proposes his poetic conclusions, not as doctrines but as invitations to debate.
Finally, reading this book cover to cover is puzzling. At least, that was my response. "What did I just read?" But, once again, it was a problem of super-imposing my expectations on the collection--as if it were one of this mid-20th century, thematically structured "slim volumes of verse." That it isn't. Yes, there are a series of poems, scattered throughout, that focus on the metaphor of a ventriloquist; but even more surprising, as I "flip and read" through the book to give substance to this review, I discover poem after poem that stands quite well on its own legs, that fascinates, that engages me as a reader, that makes me comfortable with the fact that Gibson and I are contemporaries, wrestling, in words, with the same problems, and floating our ideas out there in chapbooks, paper planes, if you will, for others to enjoy, to comment on--to accept or reject, depending on their frame of mind at the time.
I won't say that this book is a perfect match for this description, but it seems to me clearly to belong to the club. Actually, it's more interesting than many of its fellow members. The metaphor of the poet as ventriloquist, though it may be rooted in the hackneyed creative writing idea of poetic "voice," is nevertheless a potentially interesting strategy for exploring the between poetry, personality, and experience, though on first reading at least the metaphor seems to be picked up and dropped without being developed as systematically as it could be. Generally the poems are less deliberately or ineptly obscure than is all too common in current verse: I was usually given enough information in the poem about what was really going on not to have to spend time wondering what was going on rather than paying attention to the poem. The poet's diction is clean and unaffected, and the vivid images presented in disciplined patterns. All in all, a collection which has some interest for people interested in contemporary poetry, though I couldn't enthusiastically recommend it to a more general audience.