Alexis Rhone Fancher’s poem, “when I turned fourteen, my mother’s sister took me to lunch and said:” was chosen by Edward Hirsch for inclusion in The Best American Poetry of 2016. She is the author of How I Lost My Virginity To Michael Cohen and other heart stab poems, (Sybaritic Press, 2014), and State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, (KYSO Flash Press, 2015). She is published in Rattle, The MacGuffin, Slipstream, Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles, Hobart, and elsewhere.
Her photos are published worldwide, including spreads in Blue Lyra, River Styx, Blink Ink, Fine Linen, HeART Online, Rogue Agent, and the covers of Witness and The Mas Tequila Review.
Since 2013 Alexis has been nominated for seven Pushcart Prizes and four Best of The Net awards. She is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly, where she also publishes a monthly photo essay, The Poet’s Eye. Find her at on her website.
THE FEM: I love your poem “Staying Put” after Edward Hopper’s painting “A Woman in the Sun, 1961” because it’s one of my favorite paintings as well. In it, a man uses the event of painting the speaker to make her “stay put.”
In your interview with Words at Nine, you talk about your experience sitting for male artists who were in love with you and wanted to use that experience to make you “stay put” in time, space, etc. What is the danger, do you think, of using the creation of art to pin someone down and trap them in a particular place?
ALEXIS RHONE FANCHER: “And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,/When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall…” These are the lines in T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” that always scared me – being stuck, labeled. I spent my teens and twenties continually reinventing myself, while simultaneously being painted and photographed by artists who struggled to “get me down” on canvas, or film. One painter, a lepidopterist, let me watch him prepare butterflies for “mounting.” He told me the best way to kill a specimen is to pinch its thorax between your thumb and forefinger. Squeeze the life out of it. That way, it stayed put.
He told me the best way to kill a specimen is to pinch its thorax between your thumb and forefinger. Squeeze the life out of it. That way, it stayed put.
There’s a flip side. Decades later, I have many of the photos, drawings and paintings that weredone when I was really young. As a poet, this documentation, this“staying put,” has great value. A part of me is forever “stuck” in time. The almost life-sized purple nude an artist painted of me at 18 hangs in my DTLA loft where I must confront it daily. That woman keeps me honest, reminds me of a time when I was brand new, and provides a portal to my past, one that, as a poet, I enter frequently.
THE FEM: Your poetry is very upfront about sexuality, often in a very blunt way. Your poem “How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen” describes your first sexual experience as a matter-of-fact list: “20. He was holding his cock as he licked me./21. I had never come before./21a. Not like that.”
Why did you choose that particular approach of frank statement rather than the perhaps more conventional, flowery language we might expect?
ALEXIS RHONE FANCHER: I’m not a “flowery language” poet.Whenever I think about the first time I had sexual intercourse, it always unwinds like a slo-mo film. First this happened, then that happened. It just seemed natural to write it that way. Looking back on the experience, I saw a lot of sweetness, and humor in it. I hope that comes through in the poem.
I come from a long line of feminists who taught me to value myself, to speak my mind, to be fearless.
THE FEM: You tend to write very “confessionally” about personal experience, and it’s something I think you have in common with a long history of feminist poets. Why do you think, as a feminist, it is important to tell your own personal story through your art?
ALEXIS RHONE FANCHER: I come from a long line of feminists who taught me to value myself, to speak my mind, to be fearless. I write about women like me, women who own their sexuality and take responsibility for their choices. It may seem I’m writing about sex, but really, I’m writing about power. Who has it. How to get it. How to wield it. How to keep it. People often say that my candor has enabled theirs. That, for me, is the highest praise.
THE FEM: You talk about shoes a lot in your poetry, in “Walk All Over You” and “Louboutin Heels”, for instance. What is that shoes conjure up for you where you return to that image again and again?
ALEXIS RHONE FANCHER:There’s something about stilettos. They’re treacherous. Sexy. Rather than being a symbol of the patriarchy, I interpret them as a symbol of power. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the sight of a woman in sky-high heels and a LBD. In my poem, “Walk All Over You,” the stiletto boots in the back of the woman’s closet want to take revenge on the heel who gave them to her and then broke her heart. The stiletto Louboutins in “I Want Louboutin Heels” belong to a woman who owns her power for the first time. In “Stiletto Killer,” a poem from my soon-to-be -published collection, Enter Here, a woman stabs her lover thirty-one times with her stiletto heel.
I write about women like me, women who own their sexuality and take responsibility for their choices. It may seem I’m writing about sex, but really, I’m writing about power. Who has it. How to get it. How to wield it. How to keep it.
THE FEM: In your interview with yourself for The Nervous Breakdown, you list a lot of jazz musicians that you like to listen to when you write, as well as Glenn Gould’s version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Do you think of poetry more like jazz or more like classical music?
ALEXIS RHONE FANCHER: My poetry? Jazz. The improvisation, the riffs. Writing free verse is much more like jazz than writing say, sonnets or villanelles. When I read Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas, or Gerard Manley Hopkins, to me, their work is far more like classical music. Still wildly creative, but differently disciplined. When I write I like to mix it up. Coltrane. Bach. Lately, mostly silence.
When I write I like to mix it up. Coltrane. Bach. Lately, mostly silence.
THE FEM: Name three other poets that you’re excited about.
ALEXIS RHONE FANCHER: I just finished reading Paradise, Indiana by Bruce Snider. I’m in awe. His work is raw, controlled and fearless. I always cite Dorianne Laux as an early and on-going influence. She showed me what’s possible. Right now I’m reading Michelle Bitting’s new collection, The Couple Who Fell To Earth. Seriously brilliant.