Fox Frazier-Foley’s prize-winning chapbook with Sundress Publications is a collection of similarly-titled poems ranging in topic from Haitian Vodou and the Saint Patrick Four, to persona poems of past lives and an epistolary series written to photographer Diane Arbus. At a glance, the poems seem incongruous when held up side by side, but Frazier-Foley’s kaleidoscopic collection is quite masterfully arranged, if not discomfiting. The similarly-titled pieces create a sense of deja vu every couple of pages, but not in a way that feels like a gimmick. It’s an unsettling that forces the poems themselves to become grounding.
The first “Exodus in X Minor”-titled poem relies heavily on fragmented phrases and uncomfortable line breaks, interspersed with lyrical refrains. The poem introduces an origin story for an underdeveloped female voice that seems to evolve throughout the book’s arc. The drama of the poem moves the staccato reading in a way that is reminiscent of Alice Notley’s “Descent of Alette”, in that the awkward pauses begin to feel more natural as the story itself becomes more interesting:
The awkward line break pauses create tension on top of the violence that unfolds in the lines. The lyrical refrain is broken on the word “family” and the line that begins with “lies” has a reader questioning the practical intent of the word; it’s doing double duty as a lyric and as a tool for antagonizing the honesty of the father. The imagery manages to capture some kind of a bleak, dark house without ever having to rely on that kind of specific, detailed language. This kind of evocative mysticism and symbolism are tropes throughout the rest of the book with repetition of the color red: red-bearded, red-headed, strawberry, auburn, rouge, and finally, blood. Even the cover artwork speaks to the symbolic with the bright red lettering of “X” in the author’s name and title against a black and white background, next to a red slash through the middle of the art. It’s graphic and disturbing.
Violence is the hinge on which several of the poems swing upon. One of the strongest and most surprising poems in the book is “For Maddy Lerner, Age 6, Accidentally Killed at an Outdoor Firing Range in Upstate New York”. The title of the piece is long and journalistic, which sets an expectation for a reader that the poem may very well veer into editorial territory. It never occurs. Instead the poem is comfortingly humanizing and personal. The line breaks are done well and the lyrical couplet form is soft enough to hold them up: “You were, they said, struck//by hot brass from your mother’s new/AR-15 with custom scope. A tiny girl//at the table behind ours hit/the lights…” Where “a tiny girl” could venture into sentimentality, we’re surprised to find it a different little girl at the restaurant behind the speaker. The line break on “struck” is particularly eviscerating, but not as much as “hot brass from your mother’s new” – it’s artful and heartbreaking. The end of the poem is where we expect a censorial tone, instead it finishes with the speaker talking about her first time shooting a gun:
There is violence in these poems, surely, but there is a redemptive love, too. Maddy’s epistolary is part love poem part political poem. It’s weird how the poems fit together like that, as if they collectively are circumventing convention. The spiritual, dream-like realm that inhabits the Haitian Vodou poems is a glimmer of hope off in the distance, the Diane Arbus pieces are sometimes ekphrastic-feeling. The thread of connective tissue tying all of the pieces together seems to focus on the feats and limits of the physical body. In one “Letter to Diane Arbus”, Frazier-Foley writes “…learn a few new/walls out of all the surrounding/buildings housing strangers: that is to say, bodies/and the time they gives us.”
Life is temporary. Life is temporary even though you’re reading one of the many poems about past lives written in different personas. The fragility of the human body is consistently juxtaposed throughout this collection with the strength and tenacity of the spirit and being alive and in the world. If the collective description of Haitian Vodou is accurate – that it is not just a belief or religion, but an experience – then the same could be said for this debut collection of poetry. “Exodus in X Minor” leaves a reader in new territory, experiencing poetry from a new voice.
Exodus in X Minor is available from Sundress Publications.
Lauren Gordon’s reviews have appeared with Rain Taxi, Coldfront Magazine, PANK, The Collagist and are forthcoming with Poetry Crush and Damfino Press.