Review by Andrew Ruzkowski
All That Remains
Unbound Content, 2013
Perfect Bound, 80 pages
Link to Purchase
As I sit down to write this review of Brian Fanelli’s latest collection, All That Remains, I am looking out my window at the aftermath of a mammoth winter storm that swept over most of the United States, though I happen to be in Chicago. However, my place and time do not much matter. What matters is what’s reverberating through my head and vibrating through my body, what is singed upon my psyche while I contemplate Mr. Fanelli’s words and write (thankfully and unlike most of his characters) comfortably underneath a blanket with my dog coiled up beside me.
I am hearing the echoes of Fanelli’s All That Remains. A collection of poems that is so rife with sound, music, character, place, grit, grime, and ultimately poiesis that a reader cannot help but be infiltrated by the raconteur named Brian Fanelli. I can hear snow plows cantankerously grumble by, sirens in the distance, slush being tossed around, and what I hear are the poems of All That Remains. Though I find a vague kinship between my home and the place conjured in Fanelli’s poems, Brian creates a definite place. This is done through an expertly crafted voice, consistent imagery, and what feels to me to be a deep love of the place in the poet himself. This does not start and stop at lost love but radiates out into a love of craft, a sense of Barthes’ punctum, and most explicitly the people, places, memories, and machines of Appalachia.
Issues of class divide and social im/mobility pulse through these poems. For instance, in the poem “For BP” we are shown a vignette involving two friends with divergent paths in life. One “finish[ed] college, then grad school” while the other friend “drifted from factories to call centers, smart enough to attend college, but never given the chance.”The two characters almost come to blows with “faces a few inches apart, red from whiskey and heated insults hurled at each other after years of friendship.” This scene represents one type of tension that keeps this collection alive: the chasm that exists between the educated and the uneducated, upper class vs. lower class, blue collar against white collar, etc. Obviously these divisions exist all over the country but Fanelli localizes it in All That Remains. Not only does he localize it, he gives a face to it, a life to it, and of course a vibrance to it that does not let the reader look away.
This is a collection of poems made up almost entirely of narrative pieces. Although the difference between narrative and non-narrative poetry is something completely debatable in my mind. After all, a word is a story. Anyway, that’s for a different review. What I mean here is that Brian Fanelli develops characters, story arcs, builds tension, and of course elicits pathos, among many other things. In fact, there are too many narratives at work here to really do them all justice. One thread I find particularly compelling is the importance of sound, especially music, in many of these poems. Bob Dylan echoes throughout the book, so does the Punk Rock movement, and so do the sounds of a young boy and his guitar. However, the sounds of the everyday, of language, words spoken (or screamed) between lovers, the sounds of the body, this is what I find so exciting and indicative of place. How one speaks to the other is a fascinating indication of relationship. For example, in the poem “Old Lovers” the entire final stanza, I believe, really serves as a microcosm for the book as a whole:
He liked to remember how his name rolled from her tongue,
and she the strength of his hands
tracing curves in the dark.
They always left before sunlight revealed
growing streaks of gray in their hair,
fine lines near their eyes,
bodies tired and sore, in need of rest
before meeting again.
The passage of time, the decaying of bodies, the primacy of the utterance, things shifting both within us and without us, circadian rhythms. All of these abound in All That Remains and it is these things that draw me to Brian Fanelli’s words. As I said above, Mr. Fanelli is an adept raconteur and this skill makes All That Remains a page-turner, this is not something that can be said about many books of poetry. This is a collection that speaks its place in textured language and deft technique. I truly look forward to Brian Fanelli’s next collection.
Andrew Ruzkowski lives and writes in Chicago. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Willows Wept Review, Black Tongue Review, The Camel Saloon, Emerge Literary Journal, [PANK], Midwestern Gothic, and The Bakery, among others. He loves Sriracha sauce.