Review by Bunny Goodjohn
It is hard not to feel something of the voyeur when interacting with the short-run chapbook Folie à Quatre. Its high gloss cover offers up a sepia-tint woman in a sheer chemise who appears disinterested or unfazed by her audience, in communion, perhaps, with her own naked body and thoughts. Beyond the cover, a sheet of tissue acts as a soft lens through which we discern the chapbook’s title page, heightening this sense of being privy to things conventionally cloaked, obscured, made secret. Past the title page, we encounter four sections of poetry by four female poets, each piece touching erotica and love. And in case these poems aren’t sensual enough, three of the four sections include original photographs of the front cover model, Mary Fae Smith, her body naked or sheathed in suggestions of lingerie. These photos appear hand glued to blank facing pages and offer visual spaces in which to regroup before moving on through the sections that follow.
Francesca Bell (nominated for multiple Pushcarts and published in journals such as Prairie Schooner and PANK), opens the collection with four poems that explore love and love-making, beginning with “Familiarity” where, despite a couple’s “long-married love,” “desire throbs / like a busy signal.” Bell quickly shifts gear to a poem where sex serves as demolition, its aftermath poignantly hewn:
After, you soften into sleep
and slip from my body
the way a person on a steep slope
loses the struggle to stop.
The second section is home to Alexis Rhone Fancher, poet and photographer for this project. Her work is prefaced by Fae Smith’s naked body asymmetrically banded in honeycombed lace over a black thong. Fancher’s language is polished, oiled almost: “You must pick my perversions like petals.…” Fancher, whose publications include How I Lost my Virginity to Michael Cohen and other heart stab poems and State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, shifts pace from erotica shot through with flowers to a prose poem that excavates the stark truth behind a “threesome” with this line: “I see what I’m not meant to see; I am disposable, nothing more than a deep hole.” Her work goes there, to the places we might visit only in our minds. Fancher is our tour guide. She writes those places as poetic travelogue.
In the third section, Ellaraine Lockie (published poet and Poetry Editor at the lifestyles magazine Lilipoh), opens with an almost sacrilegious piece that ties the erotic to Harry Potter…but it works. In “Rings of Fire,” with its pubescently erratic capitalization and absent punctuation, the speaker’s partner “de-rings” her in the back row of a theater. The scene is adolescently and exquisitely erotic:
…you wait to cast your own spell
To pull my hand into your lap
and undress it with buttery fingers
Slowly slipping mine
out of their silver Zuni costumes
I think my favorite poem of the collection is in this third section. “Kamasutra Music” opens with a quotation from Lee Siegel: “The clitoris is a reed,” and the four seven-line stanzas that follow more than live up to this high-bar opening. Lockie’s command of consonance and assonance makes this poem a delight to both ear and tongue:
Yet you’ve never taken
lessons on saxophone love
Studied any score
suggesting the reed’s need
to be spit soaked in a moist mouth
Tongue tuned and keys caressed
before the finale trembles to crescendo
valli poole, the chapbook’s Australian poet and owner of Black Rune Press, waits for us in the fourth and final section alongside a bare-breasted Fae Smith in lace elbow-length gloves and French knickers. These poems close the sequence, quite fittingly, in an almost abandoned style. poole, her first poem dispensing with the constraints of formal punctuation and capitalization, moves from memories of an early sexual relationship in which she “found her love / the wrath in her blood / like a roar in a / small box” to the almost missionary-style line breaks and stanzas of “This Natural Love” where a lover tortured by the ecstasy of her partner’s black feather “…asks nothing of the sky / but you be in it, / your charred form.”).
This is not solely a chapbook. Folie à Quatre is a mixed media artwork that marries the innermost thoughts of women, rendered in perfectly honed and crafted words on the page, with photography. Folie à Quatre is the “small box” that delivers the raw beauty of erotica and sexual love.
Folie à Quatre: An Anthology of Love Poems
by Francesca Bell, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Ellaraine Lockie, and valli poole
Black Rune Press, 2016, $25.00 [paper]
Copies of Folie à Quatre may be ordered direct from the poets: Francesca Bell: francescabell2(at)gmail.com; Ellaraine Lockie: elockie(at)earthlink.net
Bunny Goodjohn, originally from the UK, is the Book Review Editor at Mom Egg Review and the author of two novels: Sticklebacks and Snow Globes (Permanent Press) and The Beginning Things (Underground Voices). Her poetry collection, Bone Song, was published in 2015. She directs the Academic Services Center and the Writing Program at Randolph College in Virginia. www.bunnygoodjohn.com