Book Review: Hallowed: New and Selected Poems by Patricia Fargnoli

Hallowed: New and Selected Poems
By Patricia Fargnoli
Tupelo Press, September 2017
ISBN-13: 978-1946482006
Reviewed by Z.G. Tomaszewski
Reaching Toward What Shining We Are


The poems in Patricia Fargnoli’s Hallowed: New and Selected Poems (Tupelo Press, 2017) “wish to go somewhere deeper,” to that place of ultimate quiet in which anything can be remembered, loved again, and made whole because with it the ego is let go—“How gently flowing my mind feels now.” (See: “Memory.) This book is a meditation on life, what is given and what is received, and where it goes when it’s lost and how to honor it all. Fargnoli’s empathy and awareness find new levels of growth, a wisdom that each poem is infused with. The thorough nature of her imagination brings the elsewhere and otherwise to light in the here and now. She writes into and returns from the shadow of a moment with a greater understanding of the seasons of feelings coupled with a steadfast and sensitive language of simple beauty, forged, largely, out of sorrow. Every sentence is measured with the honesty and clarity of speech. Reading Fargnoli’s poems, new and old, is like finally receiving a long-awaited letter. Each poem arrives at its own grace, fully realized. Fargnoli’s grief is brave and learned. She writes from and holds for us readers a safe space to bereave. There’s a quality of loneliness in Fargnoli’s work that is impossible to find from anyone else. It is not despair pulled off a shelf and worn, but is a disposition fixed on connecting deeply, spiritually, with the world. This sentiment seems to be the initial mover of each poem, that tug before the first breath, and is therefore a gift, and carried like one. Fargnoli’s art is making the vulnerability of solitude apparent, allowing for an enlarged intimacy of grief to be shared and in so doing to see and feel joy and fulfillment. From this place, Fargnoli writes: “[The song]…keeps me from reaching out in sorrow.// Therefore I sing along and choose among the many notes.”(See: “Fragmenting.”) The poems that span Hallowed are notes of a timeless, Earthy, and otherworldly song. Fargnoli’s singular voice and vision is manifold, and brings us closer to the experience of the soul—“Reality shifts like a hundred/ golden fish shimmering in a net,// fragments that cannot be put together.” (Again, “Fragmenting.”). “Our endless and proper duty,” as Mary Oliver wrote, “is to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it.” Fargnoli has been doing it her whole life, as glimpsed in Hallowed, the poems bearing witness to patterns of loss, an aging body, fleeting mind, but also those moments of “slippery joy.” It is her delicate touch and return to a place of earned joy, or gratitude, that nourishes us. These poems are like breaking bread—such holy sustenance. They inform the mind, elevate the spirit in communion with the divine, while accounting for and justifying the body. Again, from “Fragmenting,” “I can never be close enough to the earth—its vulnerable body, its almost silent heart,/ so many souls riding on it.” Rigor and tenderness and a devoted affinity with all that is Earth-given. This contract, these “duties of the spirit,” suggests a liminal state of being where such a loyalty to the world encourages us to live in the transition zone, where “the body sways/… back and forth/ between a field and woods—a witching stick—.” (See: “How This Poet Thinks.”) Other poems such as “Then, Something” and “Shadow at Evening” illustrate further the liminality in which Fargnoli inhabits, and through glimpses and invocations, we see such phenomena begin to make sense, and come to feel that perhaps we are also not too far from a soul. After all, “What cannot be seen intensifies.” (“Watching Light in the Field.”) But it is in “From a Rented Cottage by Winnisquam in Rain” where Fargnoli sets down, in these exemplary lines, a testament to what her life’s work aspires toward:


I believe I do have a soul—
else why, as I keep these long hours
alone before the dark glass,
do I begin to understand boundaries—
how near we all are to each other—
how near life is to death—
how near I am to rain—
how everything, sooner or later, crosses over.


It is this awe, this fear of being alone yet somehow merging forever with everything, this ache and hard acceptance of the crossing over (“See how death becomes me?”) that inform so many of these poems. Ultimately, what Fargnoli offers with this awareness is a kind of reverence, recreating of her life a gift, and with this, offering it back to the world, suspended in light, a blessing, “a reason for [our] continued existence.”

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