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Kansas Poets "Shoptalk" Series
Program 2 - Amy Fleury
May 2, 2006

 

Amy Fleury
 
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Amy Fleurys collection of poems, Beautiful Trouble, won the 2003 Crab Orchard First Book Award and was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2004. Her poems have appeared in The American Life in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, North American Review, and The Southeast Review, among others.  Her fiction has been published in 21st and The Yalobusha Review.

 

Fleury has been a recipient of the Nadya Aisenberg Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony and a Kansas Arts Commission fellowship in poetry. Though she now resides in Topeka, where she teaches at Washburn University, she is a native of Nemaha county.

 

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 Kansas Poet Laureate Jonathan Holden on Amy Fleury

Over the years, I've found that the best way to comment on poetry is to quote and to gesture towards it.  I don't find doing hatchet jobs on bad poetry useful.  But praising beautiful poetry is, though it's difficult.  All achieved poetry is metaphor or it is nothing.  And here, below, is a beautiful poem, "At Twenty-Eight":

It seems I get by on more luck than sense,
not the kind brought on by knuckle to wood,
breath on dice, or pennies found in the mud.
I shimmy and slip by on pure fool chance.
It turns charmed and cursed, a girl knows romance
as coffee, red wine, and books; solitude
she counts as daylight virtue and muted
evenings, the inventory of absence.
But this is no sorry spinster story,
just the way days string together a life.
Sometimes I eat soup right out of the pan.
Sometimes I don't care if I will marry.
I dance in my kitchen on Friday nights,
singing like only a lucky girl can.

There are many echoes here.  For me, the strongest ones are of William Carlos Williams,
his famous poem "Danse Russe":

    . . .
    if I in my north room
    dance naked, grotesquely
    before my mirror
    waving my shirt round my head
    and singing softly to myself
    "I am lonely, lonely . . ."
    Who shall say I am not
    the happy genius of my household?

Echoes:  as with all achieved poetry, they are countless and they are complex, and the "music" of the poetry is profoundly contrapuntal.  Simply the first line is:  "It seems I get by on more luck than sense" which could almost be:  "It seems I get by more on luck than sense."    What to say?  As in all the most fully achieved poetry of our time--say the poetry of Robert Frost--this poetry exhibits a profound duality:  in all its details it invites opposite possible interpretations. I think of the famous lines by Frost in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":  "The woods are lovely, dark and deep. / But I have promises to
keep, / And miles to go before I sleep . . ."  Is this, as Lionel
Trilling once suggested, the Freudean death-wish?

 

That's the wrong question.  Is Fleury's "inventory of absence" a whine of loneliness or a moment of Emersonian self-reliance?  Probably the latter.  (Fleury is no whiner.)  And the idea of "absence" has a venerable lineage doing back to the poetry of Paul Valery.  This is
sophisticated poetry, and, in the opinion of this poet, it is rambunctiously beautiful.
And memorable.

         
  Jonathan Holden