Fall for the Book lineup: Brian Brodeur’s “edging through the fog”

Fall for the Book is an annual literary festival starting next week, with events throughout the DC area, sponsored by George Mason University. (The complete schedule is here.) There are some major poets there this year, including Pulitzer Prize winner and former National Poet Laureate, Rita Dove.

I wanted to share the work of one poet, Brian Brodeur, who will be reading at the Writer’s Center on September 29th as part of this event. His second full-length collection, Natural Causes, won the 2011 Autumn House Poetry Prize.

Natural Causes features narrative poems that are story-telling at its best; they are gritty, detailed, and not afraid to dive into society’s dark underworld.  With its many poems featuring nursing homes, cancer, dwellings of the homeless, suicide, domestic violence, and the unemployed, the book itself seems to be a dedication – or offering – to the marginalized. These lines from his poem “A Late Spring,” in which the speaker feeds birds on his porch, epitomize how Brodeur tastes from these experiences, then, with each poem, “toss[es] a crumb” to those who need it:

Once, I tried a handful of raw millet
and spat it back in the sack, too bitter for me.
I wanted to taste the staple of this species
who escaped from New York cages in the 1930’s.
…………………………………………………………….
Which is one explanation for why the finches flee
from the slightest movement, refusing my palm.
They don’t trust me. Who could blame them?
But they need my charity in this bare season
before the flowers fill the air with seed,
and so they accept without question
whatever crumb I toss them…

When the speaker tastes the seed, but has the freedom from hunger that enables him to reject it, Brodeur reminds us of our own vulnerability: that we are all only a few small steps from requiring the kind of charity that he gives. Watching Brodeur locate the light – and often humor – in dark moments is one of the many pleasures of this book.

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