Local Knowledge

B. H. Fairchild, Author . Norton $13.95 (105p) ISBN 978-0-393-32221-7

A careful poet of understated intelligence and a chronicler of blue-collar, mid-American lives, Fairchild has risen from obscurity to big reviews and major prizes: Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (2003) snagged the National Book Critics' Circle Award. This reissue of Fairchild's second collection (originally produced in 1991 by the now-defunct Quarterly Review of Literature ) shows less range but obvious strength. A drunk remembers a childhood of "dirt farms and thin-wristed women who sang hymns," while "drill collars lie on racks and howl/ in the blunt wind," foretelling the death of a Texas oil-rig man. Laundromats, machine shops and vending machines strike notes of successive regret, and even amusements carry undertones of desolation: "At twilight baseball fields make their green cries/ of abandonment, the dust lying still on the base paths." Yet Fairchild is not always so dejected, nor is he simply reportorial: within his small towns and flat lands, he finds remarkable ideas for poems, such as "The Soliloquy of the Appliance Repairman," whose funny and moving lament fears obsolescence for all mechanical skills. The poet's prose afterword sums up his youth in "dusty oilfield towns" in West Texas and later in smalltown Kansas, where his father operated the lathes that became a symbol for Fairchild's art. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/15/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
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