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"Meaty, maximalist, driven by narrative, [Fairchild] stakes out an American mythos."—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
From Manhattan to the rural Midwest—one of our most distinguished poets offers a verbal cinema of America. Employing dramatic monologues, among other forms, Usher embraces a range of subject matter and modes, from the elegiac to the comic. At its heart, however, is the long poem “Trilogy,” consisting of three interrelated dramatic monologues spoken by a circus performer, a theological student and ...

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"Meaty, maximalist, driven by narrative, [Fairchild] stakes out an American mythos."—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
From Manhattan to the rural Midwest—one of our most distinguished poets offers a verbal cinema of America. Employing dramatic monologues, among other forms, Usher embraces a range of subject matter and modes, from the elegiac to the comic. At its heart, however, is the long poem “Trilogy,” consisting of three interrelated dramatic monologues spoken by a circus performer, a theological student and part-time usher, and Hart Crane. A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of 2009.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Over two decades and five books, Fairchild, a native Midwesterner, has built a loyal highbrow following for deft compositions that depict, with wit, pathos and regret, the ordinary lives of modern Americans-a dispossessed Great Plains farmer; a young Jewish New Yorker working as a movie theater usher, who comes to terms with Christian theology; Doris Miller of Clyde, Missouri, "on evening break at Wal-Mart"; a pool room full of Texas college students drinking while thinking about higher math. All those characters turn up in this new collection; so does a set of prose poems devoted to classic B-movies, and another about "The Beauty of Abandoned Towns." Other poems play philosophical games, as in the monologue spoken by the barber (famous in mathematical circles) who shaves all and only those barbers who do not shave themselves. Even there, however, everything intellectual becomes at last accessible, as if all ideas took place on "some vast, flat plain of pure event where things/ just happen." Fairchild pays homage, by name, to the grim, witty Anthony Hecht, but his own compositions, suffused with prairie sadness, could easily appeal to the broader audience for, say, Garrison Keillor or Ted Kooser. (May)

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“Fairchild's singular distinction is his ability to make people and incidents in his work more actual than any, it seems, in any other kind of writing.”
Sacramento Book Review
“The energetic and vivid poems of Usher are a delight . . . even those who approach poetry with trepidation will be mesmerized.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065756
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/4/2009
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

B. H. Fairchild, the author of several acclaimed poetry collections and a recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, has been a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the William Carlos Williams Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Bobbitt National Prize. He teaches in the creative writing PhD program at the University of North Texas.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Usher: The Best and Almost-Best of B.H. Fairchild

    B.H. Fairchild's impressive previous collections The Art of the Lathe and Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest mined with deft craftsmanship and elegiac intensity the characters peopling the stark outer but rich inner landscapes of his rural Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma youth. Precision tooling in his father's machine shop and quiet lives of skilled men he perceptively observed created subjects of rare beauty -expressed in pastoral, somber tone and quirky, surprising imagery. His newest book, Usher, is most compelling when it continues in that same vein, but seems weaker and less convincing as the poet shifts his gaze to horizons less personal and more cerebral. In three of the five sections, Fairchild develops what might be called "realistic imaginings,": postcards Hart Crane might have written from Havana the day before he leaped into the Gulf of Mexico; prose-poem journals of Roy Eldridge Garcia, who appears in earlier Fairchild books; ironic monologue of Frieda Pushnik, performer in a traveling circus freak show; first-person musings from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the barber from Bertrand Russell's paradox (about who shaves the shaver). Fairchild's dilemma is how to let other voices speak inside his poems without all sounding like the poet-narrator we trust from previous work. Faulkner's least successful experiment was A Fable, when he left the familiar environs of Yoknapatawpha County for France, or the same with Steinbeck when he tried to retell the Arthurian legends in his flat, uncluttered style. Fairchild is superlatively at home, however, in the final two sections, "The Beauty of Abandoned Towns" and "Desire." Here is vintage Fairchild: "And here they come again, 4 a.m./ gaggle of shadows, thick wallow/ of groans, sudden bleak wailings/ blown like an explosion of grackles/ from my small-life's basement, Bosch-like/ in their fury, their perverse pink rage, and ending always in a great white flash. . . and, "And this is visionary Kansas: the last believers/ plunged back into a night where the angels/ of a Lutheran engineer rise above Wal-Mart/ and the corporate fields of chemicals and wheat." Literary biographer Paul Mariani described Fairchild's "ventriloquial feats of language," and Poems Out Loud characterized Usher as "verbal cinema." Applaud Fairchild for new explorations, but risking the authenticity of his poetic voice as found in the stunning, memorable "Beauty," "The Blue Buick," "Body and Soul," and so many other poems from earlier books, makes this reviewer hope he doesn't wander too far from home.

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  • Posted April 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    B.H. Fairchild
    W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
    ISBN: 978-0-393-06575-6
    $24.95 - Hardback
    122 pages
    Reviewer: Annie Slessman

    As I started my read of USHER by B.H. Fairchild I had no expectations. I had not read his previous works nor did I know his reputation as a poet. After reading The Gray Man and Frieda Pushnik - I was hooked.

    B.H. Fairchild uses prose like David used the slingshot - he takes simple language and packs a real punch. As I read The Deer, I had to remind myself to breathe. The images he provokes are breathtaking and linger in the mind long after finishing the work.

    In the poem entitled Cendrars, Fairchild describes phantom pain in a missing limb, "it is like memory, the memory that will not quite go away, that it is in effect the body's memory, but more, that it is like poetry, the phantom life: not there in any material way, yet intensely there to the reader, the amputee who has lost some nameless yet essential limb of existence, probably on the long, dark path out of childhood. Teary-eyed with excitement, the reader can say of the poem, yes, this is life, or better, this is life within life, but try to convince the passerby, the onlooker, who will simply observe the empty sleeve flapping in the wind and shake his head sadly."

    If you are a lover of poetry, you will want to add this work to your library. If you do not as yet appreciate the art of poetry, this would be the book of poetry that would mold your love of poetry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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