Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) and the full-length poetry collections All That Remains (Unbound Content) and Waiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books). His poetry, essays, and book reviews have been published by the Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, The Paterson Literary Review, Kentucky Review, and elsewhere. He has an M.F.A. from Wilkes University and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. He teaches at Lackawanna College.
Loren Kleinman (LK): Are you still scared of Fat Jimmy?
Brian Fanelli (BF): Growing up, we all had bullies that tormented us. Jimmy was a menace. I exaggerated him a bit in the opening poem to my new book, but I can still envision his swollen knuckles and the way he stalked kids on the playground. My tango with Jimmy was the only physical fight I engaged in as a kid. I lost. One punch to the face, and I was done. I’m not scared of him anymore, but Waiting for the Dead to Speak deals with memory, and Jimmy is one of the more haunting ones from childhood. I have no idea why it took me so long to write about that specific incident, but this book, more than my past work, draws on my childhood in the first section. I think, too, that Jimmy has some humanity in the poem. After seeing the harm he did to me, how he knocked me on the ground and drew blood, he picked me up. That didn’t happen in real life, but I wanted to rewrite his story.
LK: I love the stories you tell in Waiting for the Dead to Speak, specifically the stories of the "dead" or the dead as past waiting to be spoken about by you, the poet. What past stories were the most difficult to write about and how do you reconcile past with present in poetry?
BF: My relationship with my father and his passing have been a reoccurring theme in my poetry. He still lives and breathes in the pages of this collection, in more specific memories, such as an image of him driving a ‘75 Corvette. This collection also explores the aftermath of his death and dealing with the grief, specifically the anger I felt at losing him at 20. It’s still difficult to write about him, but writing about him allows me to keep him alive. In addition, the book deals with the fallout of a long-term relationship that ended and trying to figure out my life afterwards. There are poems that live in the present, too, especially in the context of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and other recent protest movements. In terms of form, one has to be careful about the shift from past to present, or vice versa. There are a lot of techniques one can use, though. For example, a specific image in the present can be a trigger and gateway to exploring memory. For instance, if I saw the keys to my father’s’75 Corvette right now, or a picture of him in it, I could use that image, in the present, as a gateway to writing about the past. I like poems that address memory, that navigate through time. Sometimes, on the page, it may look seamless to the reader, but it’s not always easy to do.
LK: I love the poem "What I Kept in the Trunk of My First Car," especially the tie of the coat from the beginning of the poem to the sexy coat scene at the end. What do you have in your trunk today? What other poems are speaking in there?
BF: My trunk now is so much cleaner than the trunk of that battered Nissan I had as a kid. I used to take that car to punk rock shows. We’d all pile in. In the summer, that car stalled at red lights and stop signs. I don’t think I have anything in my trunk today, other than a spare tire, but regarding “What I Kept in the Trunk of My First Car,” that poem is certainly about a romantic relationship I had as a teenager. However, it’s also about the punk scene in northeastern, PA. I spent my high school years going to shows in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and sometimes Philly. It’s about the energy, the music, the relationships, the community, but it’s also about the desire all of us had to get out of those old coal mining towns. I remember having conversations with my girlfriend at the time about our hopes to live in a big city. We were convinced there was something bigger and better out there. Some of us stayed, while others, myself included, used college as a means to an escape. Looking back, we were probably too hard on our hometowns, but we were young.
LK: Another theme throughout this book are imagined voices. How do these voices speak in poetry?
BF: Well, as you’ve said, there are very real voices in this book from my past. In fact, this book, more than my other two, deals with the past and making peace with old ghosts. In some regards, this is probably my most confessional collection. In terms of imagined voices, whenever we write about memory, we think about what we could have done differently. We think about potential outcomes. So, in a sense, those are some of the imagined voices in the book. One of the poems, “I Imagine Gardening with My Father,” envisions a chance I never had, the simple act of gardening with my father and seeking his help and advice about home ownership.
LK: What can readers expect from Waiting for the Dead to Speak? Where can they get the book?
BF: For this book, I’ll be doing a lot of readings around the tri-state area throughout the fall. All of the readings are listed on my website, www.brianfanelli.com. The book will be out in mid-September through NYQ Books, and it will be available through the press’s website, http://books.nyq.org/, Amazon, Barnes ‘n Noble, and all of the usual outlets.