Hymn to the Reckless by Erin Fornoff

a bookclique pick by Mela Frye

One of life’s greater hazards is befriending writers. One dreads the disappointment of art not equalling life, of having to lie — OR, to tell the truth.  In some writerly friendships, however, one discovers a union of pleasure and relief. Such is the happy case with Erin Fornoff and her beautiful debut collection of poems, Hymn to the Reckless. A college friend of mine — and later housemate as we began our professional lives — Fornoff is Appalachia-born-and-bred and now resides in Ireland.  An instinctual anthropologist and adventure-seeker, Fornoff explores the unwieldy inheritance of living abroad while yearning for home: How do you name that pull in your bones? The best poem in the book is the title piece — a richly playful tribute to Fornoff’s brother and a memory of the two of them bandying embers about near a campfire:

we smoulder. Gods of our own solstice, and solace, there’s solace

in this insane game; in being the wild ones who manhandle coals

from flames and make them dance

The poem takes a devastating turn when her brother names his great skeleton of siblinghood: You know, I always thought they loved you best, and the speaker asks, How long has he held that pressed tight in his palm / as it scorched him? She later ends with We’ll toss it back and forth until it’s ashes.

Other poems honor her family as well, such as an unrhymed sonnet that traces the arc of her mother’s motherhood — from the cellular blooming, the brine swell to packing boxes that burst to nights weeping, a soft palm upon / my hairline; throughout collapse and standing. Her last poem is a hymn to her skydiving father: We all watch our fathers fall to earth.  

Fornoff often recalls Elizabeth Bishop for me in both her resourcefulness and skill with metaphor, as well as in her imperatives that we closely observe simple wonders. Sadness is peppered with exuberant joy. Memorable lines imbue the collection. Fornoff’s world is one where life-shaking experiences — adolescence, love, the 2016 election — are examined with the same precise lyricism as cicadas, moonshine, and leftover wedding cake. In other words, readers of all strokes will find pleasure, wisdom, and a kindred spirit in these pages.

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