Tuesday, April 10, 2012
IN A KINGDOM OF BIRDS…
Naomi Nye (one of my favorite poets) says that Ken Fontenot’s wisdom “sears,” and I’d transpose that to read: “it soars,” particularly his observations about the kingdom of birds: owls, sparrows, grackles, doves...
Fontenot’s poems about his relatives – nephew, mother, father, grandfather –are equally arresting. The latter character is featured in haunting poems about an old man whose drunkenness and incarceration seem to be as painful to his grandson, the poet, as his ruthless killing of an unwanted pup with a hammer.
Fontenot’s poems based on Louisiana experiences are seductive to me, a native Louisianan; e.g., “A Fan That Reminds Me of A Morning Long Ago,” in which Fontenot speaks of a Louisiana hunt with his grandfather “somewhere out there beyond/the crawfish mounds, beyond the cows/bowing to their god, beyond the cow pond/and its menagerie, beyond the fields/they have let go…” The oscillating fan in this poem also resonates with me because I still remember the sound of Grandmother Nell’s old Emerson fan from childhood naptime, still “whispering,” as Fontenot says about the sound of this dust stirrer.
Many of Fontenot’s poems are rooted in irony. In “Poets and Blackberries,” he grounds the poem in ordinary problems like being indigent, then moves into hope as “we eat a fresh blackberry,/suddenly blackberries are gods./In our poems we praise blackberries,/saying there was never anything their equal./Our town becomes Blackberry Town./Our world becomes Blackberry World,..” and returns to the problem: “The mail arrives./ A bill we can’t pay./And it’s as if blackberries didn’t exist.”
An entire poem devoted to “Trouble” invites the reader to consider the tragedy of the human condition in these lines: “The heart wants out!/Three million years now/and it wants to belong/to some other kind of body…” And yet – yet : “The birds rescue my faith in them by taking the only/road they know, the air. And because they keep /falling, almost unnoticed, out of the gray sky,/we know another miracle has put birds in our/dreams, and has let us fly when we most want to.” This exquisite poem lives up to the feeling the book’s title engenders in poetry readers and evokes a sense of the transcendent goodness that still survives in the universe.
Fontenot’s lyrics speak to the philosophical mind; they are sometimes brittle but are filled with energy and never sentimental. In natural and imaginative imagery, Fontenot brings us to the edge and leads us back.
This is another outstanding poet on Pinyon-Publishing’s list and can be ordered from Pinyon-Publishing, 23847 V 66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.
Native of Franklinton, Louisiana, and resides New Iberia, Louisiana and Sewanee, Tennessee, on the campus of the University of the South. Ordained Episcopal deacon, former archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, and former director of Solomon House Outreach Center Mission in New Iberia, LA.
My regular blog posts are at A Word's Worth. There you may read about my latest publications, essays on various topics, such as Cajun Louisiana and the Cumberland Plateau, and book reviews, and commentaries about the life of the spirit. Poems excerpted from my chapbooks, and portions of my sermons over the years are included also.