GIBSON FAY-LEBLANC On a panel about contemporary poetry at 1:30 pm Saturday.
So, too, is identity shaped and leached by voices and words. In "The Ventriloquist on the Moor," the voice-thrower, imagining his dead body and his voices lying in the peat, wonders whether he'll "decay once for each of them." The self is myriad, mutable, sometimes a deception, and the letter that encloses it, as the poem "Recording" muses, is limited: "I is such a narrow one,/so singular, so flimsy,/but we still means enough." Likewise, in these poems, are there infinite ways to tell (and so to experience) history, a fatherless childhood, being part of a grown-up, loving we, and one's own fatherhood: "I could describe the arc of piss/as sanctifying the changing table," he writes in "How to Make Fatherhood Lyrical," but
it's not a set of lyrics, it's prose –
as in pedestrian, a man
on foot, not some freak stallion,
not a Clydesdale, not even a draft –
And every day I have to choose
whether to write myself in.
Later in the book, it is outside of words and tones, the title poem explains, that the ventriloquist is finally "off-ed:" when he is confronted by "no/one, no clapping, nothing/said or to say, empty//vessel." After so long throwing the voices of others, can he now "learn how to listen?"
A quiet, receptive hunger grows in the exquisite love poem "More Matter, Less Art," whose narrator exalts:
how I swallowed you while we slept –
Not as in the throat, as in
the bird, its unsung note.
In the unflinching gaze and good faith of Fay-LeBlanc's volume, owning a voice also means owning silence and ambiguity — owning not just the perfect words, but what sometimes waits unrealized, both in the mouth and somewhere just beyond.
Megan Grumbling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DEATH OF A VENTRILOQUIST | by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc | Winner of the 2011 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry | University of North Texas Press | paperback, 80 pages | $12.95