Dialect of a Skirt by Erica Miriam Fabri

Erica is a great poet, one whose work I’ve had the pleasure of publishing in Spindle; she’s also a friend, so take my recommendation (and criticism) with a grain of salt.

Generally speaking, I prefer my poetry a la carte or in thematic anthologies; I’m not a fan of individual collections of poetry unless a poet has a significant body of work that can be editorially curated with an unbiased eye. Erica Miriam Fabri’s Dialect of a Skirt (Hanging Loose Press, 2009) is a welcome exception to my rule; while arguably 10-15 pages longer than necessary, it’s an engaging collection of poems and is a worthy addition to any poetry bookshelf.

From the smart-aleck opening of “Dear Poetry Editor, Please Publish My Poems”…

I will be frank: I want to become a poet
while I am still young and rare.
I want to be a foxy poet.

to the poignancy of “The First Plastic Surgery Patient on Earth”…

Now, a woman can buy herself an upper lip,
she can have the ugly sucked right out of her with a straw.
He could have given her mangoes for breasts.
The ankles of peacocks.
The cheekbones of the Goddess Lakshmi.

Some say she threw herself into the river,
Face first.
Some say she’s swimming there still.

to the subtle complexities of “Twenty-Four Hours”…

As we dive into the deep part, I wonder if you are ever sad.
If you will ever need anyone. Just after two, I get up
to use the toilet. You wake and think I’ve left,
until you see my panties next to the pillow and my
earrings on the nightstand. When I get back
to the bed, I find you waiting for me. Don’t ever
do that again
, you say, Next time, leave a note.
Before I’m under the blanket, you’re snoring.
In the morning, you tell me you dreamt of flying.
But not too high. Only about eight feet off the ground,
and very slow.

Fabri’s strong voice, ear for nuance, and self-confidence are on full display. She never shies from being as concise as each individual poem calls for or letting them breathe when necessary, and she experiments with rhythm and line breaks in ways that don’t feel precious or self-indulgent. One of her most interesting poems is “The Word-Lover’s Miscarriage” — 11 words, each one with a footnote that is effectively a poem itself.

The one flaw of the book, and it’s purely subjective, is its structure, broken into 5 sections (The Pencil Skirt, The Garter Belt, The Corset, The Miniskirt, The Silk Shop) that presumably have some metaphorical reference to the “dialect” of the poems they contained, but merely served as distractions. Instead of each poem standing on its own merits, I found myself trying to translate them from (or into?) the dialect they presumably represented, rarely to good effect. They’re like distracting beadwork on an otherwise sexy skirt.

For me, the ultimate test of a book of poetry is the flip test: literally, flipping open to a random page a few times and seeing if the poem I find stands on its own. Happily, Dialect passes that test with flying colors.

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