Duties of the Spirit
by Patricia Fargnoli
“…[A]gain and again, readers are repeatedly impressed by Fargnoli's refreshing images of nature – the surrounding landscape and its animal inhabitants, the borders between wilderness and civilization, or the long course of coastline that separates the land-locked speakers in the poems from the vast openness of the ocean before them. Readers are particularly rewarded with poems revealing instances and experiences where contrasting elements of different habitats meet or the distinct environments come into conflict, as well as when an individual resident of one world trespasses upon another.”
Duties of the Spirit is comprised of deeply moving, lyrical and unforgettable explorations of the joys and fears that come with growing older in America.
“These poems are stamped with an energetic and outgoing attentiveness to the world. This, so much more than just the humming examination of the self, is what makes writing a sacred thing. Who does this is a true poet, and few do it better than Patricia Fargnoli.”
— Mary Oliver
Winner 2005 New Hampshire Jane Kenyon Literary Book Award
The Undeniable Pressure of Existence
I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted dull haired
past Jim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.
Of course when I think about fun,
I think of a man in a short buckskin skirt,
shirtless, walking down the street
of the Bridge of Flowers,
with a crossbow, a quiver of arrows on his back.
About fifty, an ordinary man
I wouldn’t have noticed
but for the crossbow and his half-nakedness—
in other words, his way of sticking out
in the crowd of tourists going by.
He was just walking; a man in a suit
walking beside him, both of them
with a sense of purpose,
both obviously on the way to somewhere.
The street slanted up a little and they bent forward
to accommodate it. That must have been
their mission that day—onward and upward.
The bow rattled on his back,
the arrows quivered.
His hair was white—if that helps.
The problem with such fun
is that nobody explains it. It enters stage left
and goes off stage right into the wings.
Then for years it keeps going off in your mind
like flashbulbs. It takes on weight, metaphor:
Father Death, Creative Spirit.
Gosh I wish I’d known the whole story—
I could put the puzzle to bed then—
if only I knew the meaning of it all.
On Reaching Sixty-Five
We old women are close to wool sweaters.
When someone tries to tell us
what passes these days for the truth
we argue with them and refuse to believe.
Instead, we look to the stars for faith and confusion.
Where both are ample.
I hold the door open
and look down the snowbound road.
See how the stranger appears on it,
gradually and from a great distance.
If he comes close enough,
I will allow him to enter, or perhaps not,
given the certainty of loss.
Once there was a man full of appreciation
for his own mind.
I tried to enter him and failed.
His suitcases bumped together as he left.
Sometimes I wonder how I came to this place.
Life, like a smoke ring, lifts
into the old air
where I can’t put my finger on it.
But something indefinable and fragile remains
of the orchard, the way it was at the peak of harvest—
sweet and humming.
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The Valparaiso Poetry Review has posted 2 excellent and in-depth reviews of Duties of the Spirit by New Hampshire Poet Laureate Patricia Fargnoli. They appeared in two different issues of VPR and each is well worth the few minutes it tales to read them. Edward Byrne’s review reads in part… “…[A]gain and again, readers are repeatedly impressed by Fargnoli’s refreshing images of nature – the surrounding landscape and its animal inhabitants, the borders between wilderness and civilization, or the long course of coastline that separates the land-locked speakers in the poems from the vast openness of the ocean before them. Readers are particularly rewarded with poems revealing instances and experiences where contrasting elements of different habitats meet or the distinct environments come into conflict, as well as when an individual resident of one world trespasses upon another.”
To say that Michael Milligan of the Valparaiso Poetry Review likes Pat Fargnoli’s Duties of the Spirit is to commit a vast understatement. His review reads, in part: “… Fargnoli so adeptly welcomes us into her world that we find ourselves deeply engaged at the outset, and identifying utterly with the poet. Her sense of place is impeccable – describing, indeed re-creating the physical and emotional landscapes through which she travels, Fargnoli fastens us securely to our own. Concurrently, all countries become the same country, all vistas the same vista – the boundaries between reader and poet dissolve and for a time we inhabit the same realms.”
Latest in the long line of praise comes a review from North American Review: Echoing Thornton Wilder who says “one of the duties of the spirit is joy, and another is serenity,” Fargnoli adds “the third must be grief.” These poems are an ineluctable mix of these three feelings, always with lovely and delicate imagery and language; the poet and the speaker find consolation in nature, beauty in the conflicts of city, resiliency and hope in the midst of aging—radiant revelations of a life well-lived. Ever “the existence of laughter which persists like a miracle.”
fluentascension.com posted a review of Patricia Fargnoli’s Duties of the Spirit which sums up simply and enthusiastically with: “How many honest books of poetry are out there? I don’t know. But this is one of them. Grab it!”
Web Del Sol Review of Books reviews Duties of the Spirit.
The 2006 New Year’s Day edition of The Providence Journal (RI) featured a Patricia Fargnoli (Duties of the Spirit, 2005) poem in Tom Chandler’s “Poetic License” column.
The praise just keeps coming. The most recent Duties of the Spirit review says… “These poems are written with serene grace… Fargnoli has found a striking, poetic voice that is above all deeply honest.” Comstock Review has the full write-up at http://www.comstockreview.org/criticspen.html
The Governor and Executive Council of New Hampshire has appointed a new poet laureate. Pat Fargnoli of Walpole is a poetry instructor and the author of three poetry books.The job comes with no pay and the appointment lasts for five years. So why do it? Well, they’re poets. As Ezra Pound said “writing poetry is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the splash.” NH Outlook’s Chip Neal spoke with New Hampshire’s newest poet laureate at her town’s library. Read the full article in the Portsmouth Herald and see the New Hampshire Poet Laureate interviewed on New Hampshire Public Television: http://www.nhptv.org/outlook/sprogramdate.asp?prog_num_id=1261.