It's an honor to welcome Brian Fanelli to "Scrivengale" today.
If there was a weekday to set aside for hard-working young writers who bust their behinds promoting and elevating the literary arts, such a day would be dedicated to him.
Writer Wednesday will just have to serve.
Brian obtained his MFA from Wilkes University and is widely published in national journals and on websites. You can read more about him here.
He is really a remarkable person with an unflagging supply of energy and focus. He tirelessly campaigns for writers as if working under the banner, "Who Doesn't Need More Great Poetry in Their Lives? We ALL do," making appearances at bookstores, galleries, and other intimate venues around Pennsylvania. He also hosts his own New Visions Writers Showcase in Scranton, every other month, providing an invaluable outlet for other writers to share their work.
He published his first chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) in 2010. Christopher Reilley, poet and author of Grief Tatoos said this about Front Man, "The personal life of Brian Fanelli gets the rock star treatment here, in twenty nine brutally honest renderings of his opened veins."
So nice that you could join us, Brian. How long have you been writing poetry?
Since I was in high school. I was lucky to have a few creative writing classes then and supportive teachers. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended West Chester University, which has a really wonderful poetry scene and a well-known poetry conference every year. My parents were also supportive, and my mom was really the one to buy me some of my first poetry books. She used to go to flea markets, yard sales, and book sales and come home with collections by Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Shelley, and others. So, I started reading poetry at a young age.
What was the impetus for formally studying poetry in the Wilkes program?
After working as a news reporter, I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school. I also knew that I wanted to teach, so I would need an M.F.A. to do so. The Wilkes program appealed to me because of the low-residency aspect. I was able to hold down a few part-time jobs and still obtain my degree. There was no question in my mind that poetry would be the genre I would study since it was always the genre I enjoyed writing in the most.
How would you describe your poetry?
Most of my poems are narrative. I borrow a few elements from fiction in the sense that I like a story, and sometimes I use re-occurring characters. But more than anything, I am concerned with word play and language, so I always try to ensure that my work has at least some musicality to it.
How did you find the rhythm, the cadence for your poetry?
I usually count every syllable in my lines for one thing. I do measure the beats of my lines, and I use a lot of the standard sound techniques in my poems, including assonance, consonance and alliteration, though I don’t go overboard with them. But, as I said earlier, I am concerned with creating a rhythm and musicality to my work. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, behind the freest of verse, there should lurk some ghost of meter. I agree with that.
A lot of your poetry is reflective--about your past. Why so many from this period in your past? When I was putting together a collection of poems for my M.F.A. at Wilkes, I knew that I wanted to write narrative poems about my youth and time in the punk rock scene. There was so much to write about in terms of character, imagery, and memory. I was never actually in a band, though, so some of the poems are persona poems. I did play guitar for a number of years, though. Front Man also worked well as a coming-of-age collection because the front man persona eventually leaves the scene and lands some real world jobs, which I think is true for most people involved in that scene. You have to grow up at some point.
What is your favorite poem in the collection?
I like some of the poems in the book that aren’t about music necessarily, but about father and son relationships, especially the poems “Waiting Room” and “How I Remember Him.”
How do you start a poem? What is your impetus? I usually have an image in my head, and I start from there and see where it goes.
What are your challenges or frustrations?
Finding enough time to write is one of the biggest challenges. I usually write in the morning, before I have to teach. I enjoy the quiet of the early hours. There is also the frustration of the place of poetry in our society. Sometimes you have to convince people that they will actually enjoy a poetry reading, or I have to convince my students that they will enjoy reading or writing poetry. After they experience a reading or poetry unit, they do enjoy it. In fact, after I finished one of my English courses last year, students wrote in their evaluations that they wanted more poetry!
What is most rewarding about writing poetry?
I just enjoy the challenge of writing poetry, working with such a compressed form where every word really does matter and every line should be well-crafted in terms of image and rhythm. I also love doing readings, traveling to different cities and getting to interact with the poetry scenes outside of Scranton.
I have a full-length book of poems coming out next summer through the press Unbound Content. A lot of the poems are working-class narratives, and there are poems that explore relationships and gender communication. There are some music references too, but this collection is a lot different than Front Man, I think.
I also have some readings coming up this summer. On May 31 at 7 p.m., I’m reading at the KGB Bar in New York City again with fellow poet Sandee Gertz Umbach, novelists Taylor Polities and Rich Uhlig, and memoirist Pat Florio, so it will be a mini Wilkes reunion.
I’m also looking forward to reading at the Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading on June 30 with you, poet Dawn Leas, and novelist Barbara Taylor.
Last summer, I did a reading almost every weekend or every other weekend, so this summer I want to take it a little easy. I’ll also continue to co-host the New Visions Writers Showcase in Scranton. We want to keep that thing going for as long as possible, and our next one is Saturday, May 12 at 7. Then we’ll have one in July.
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Don't forget. Brian will be reading at the Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading on Saturday June 30 from 1-3 with other Wilkes University authors. Visit Brian's website for other upcoming appearances or friend him on Facebook.