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Poetry: Waiting for the Dead to Speak, by Brian Fanelli
Review by Dante Di Stefano
Waiting for the Dead to Speak
by Brian Fanelli
Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) and the full-length poetry collections All That Remains (Unbound Content) andWaiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books). His poetry, essays, and book reviews have been published by The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, The Paterson Literary Review, Main Street Rag, [PANK], Louisiana Literature, and elsewhere. His poetry has also been featured on “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor. He has an M.F.A. from Wilkes University and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. Brian is a full-time faculty member at Lackawanna College.
The world did not end on November 9, 2016. However, for some of us, even for those of us who saw a Trump victory as a distinct possibility, it certainly felt like it did. Brian Fanelli’s second full-length poetry collection, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, addresses many of the underlying class issues exposed in the recent presidential campaign. Fanelli’s poetry dramatizes the enthusiasms and struggles of a white working class childhood and of an adulthood wed to activism and to poetry. Throughout the rolling hills of Lackawanna County dramatized in poem after poem, Bruce Springsteen blares out of car windows as Dollar Trees proliferate and young men learn the gospel of Bud Light and Monday Night Football. The Scranton, Pennsylvania of Waiting for the Dead to Speak, a place freighted with pasts and vanishings, could be anywhere in Middle America; Fanelli’s poetry mainlines anthracite and coal dust, caked in creosote and lye, in order to deliver a rustbelt bucolic in which empathy outflanks hate.
The twin cornerstones of Fanelli’s poetry are empathy and gentleness. The first poem of the collection, “For Jimmy, Who Bruised My Ribs and Busted My Nose,” gently demonstrates the empathetic vision that ennobles the whole of Fanelli’s work. The final two stanzas of this ode read:
This poem is for the bully who never cried,
who hid belt lashes from us, who ran from the sound
of his father’s battered Ford tracking him down,
the son whose hands tightened to fists like his father’s,
who uncurled his fingers to study my blood,
and then extended a hand to lift me up.
Here, as elsewhere in Waiting for the Dead to Speak, Fanelli moves through the bruised and the busted to a place where those in conflict are united in a gesture of uplift. Like his heroes, Philip Levine and Joe Strummer, Brian Fanelli knows what work is and he sings for all of those lost, unborn, and unmade in the ramshackle. The only swing state depicted in these poems is the movement away from complacency’s chubby scraped knuckles.