Severance, Coming Soon

Hello friends! Quick news: My next book, Severance, my fourth full-length collection of poetry, will be published in April by Salmon Poetry in Ireland. Hopefully, soon, I’ll have a cover to show you. The book will be launched Mar 27-30 in Portland, Oregon at The Associated Writing Programs Conference. I’ll share details soon about when I’m signing copies, if you’ll be there and want to buy your copy before tens of millions of others do. ;o)

Here is some advance praise for Severance, in the meantime.

“Lush with invented compound words and quirky rhymes, the poems in Severance represent a confluence of timeless allegory, hallucination, and rock opera staged in a puppet theater lit by a tinfoil sun. In a collection that describes a sequence of devastating losses from the point of view of an Ishmael-like survivor, Grief serves as a sort of interlocutor, at once companion, instigator, enemy, doctor, prophet, and god. Fanning enacts lyricism-as-salvation in songs “all contusion and blue” which tamp the wound, snip the strings of fate, and open the scarlet curtain into day.

Diane Seuss, author of Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl and Four-Legged Girl, Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

“In Severance, his fourth full-length book of poems, Robert Fanning has severed the strings from the poet as marionette—the poet tied to poetic form, tethered to how a poem takes its shape and moves about on the page—to make a book like no other. Prepare to be undone, unhinged, unstrung by the strange song that is this book. Prepare for its strangeness to rearrange everything you believed a book of poems might be.”

Peter Markus, author of Bob, or Man on Boat, and five other books of fiction, the latest The Fish and the Not Fish. He lives in Michigan where he teaches as the senior writer with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project of Detroit.

“Robert Fanning’s Severance contains a large grief miniaturized and given a proscenium stage and a script. Here, a Professor converses with Grief in between Oldsongs that have the music of a lullaby in a performance of orchards and snow that wants to make an order out of the cold eternity. The metaphors change with each angle, circling and closing in on a message, a meaning in the difficulties of loss. This book helps me see the beauty of a grief master, a puppeteer who uses grief to activate the gone, as if our pain for those we’ve lost is the song that keeps them dancing in the Winterland. It’s not life, but something like it, until we finally, mercifully, cut the tethers and truly let those we’ve lost go on without us.”

Traci Brimhall, author of Saudade, Our Lady of the Ruins, and Rookery

Thanks, as always, for your support!



Come Together

Happy Summer, friends!

In addition to continuing work on my most recent manuscript, which is totally out of my control, it seems—and lovingly so—it has also been a time of solicitations and collaborations lately. Last year, I was solicited for a poem on Detroit music for the forthcoming anthology on Michigan State University Press entitled I Just Wanna Testify: Poems About Detroit Music. In thinking about all things Detroit music, my glance and heart turned to my late friend Blair, who to me was music and poetry blended and personified. The poem is entitled “Memorial in Open Air,” and it celebrates Blair’s life as poet, as musician, as a great-hearted man. That anthology will be published this Fall, 2018.

Following that solicitation, this winter I received an exciting invitation from my friend David Sullivan out in Santa Cruz, CA, to compose a poem on either Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Brueghel the Elder, for an anthology of poems in response to the art of Bosch and Brueghel. I chose to focus on the middle panel of Bosch’s terrifically terrifying triptych “Death and the Miser.” My poem, which became titled “The Owner at Closing Time,” is rather irreverent and absurd and I really hope Bosch would approve. As soon as that anthology is due to be published, I’ll let you know.

Also, this spring, I received an invitation from the wonderful composer and musician David Biedenbender to compose a piece for him to set music to, which you can read about more at length right here.

It is a thrill  to be asked for poems, and to come together with other artists!

I have a couple readings upcoming this summer, and am gathering testimonials and preparing pre-publication materials for my forthcoming collection, Severance, due out from Salmon Poetry in Ireland in Spring, 2019! Stay tuned…

Happy summer days, all.

Music into Words into Music

In the early spring, I received an email from the magnificent composer David Biedenbender, who’d already composed a piece for my poem “Staying the Night,” which has been performed in Idaho, Ohio and Michigan thus far. His composition for “Staying the Night” was already an honor—as David himself was inspired to select that poem from my most recent collection Our Sudden Museum to put to music—and his composition and its performances were so, so incredible. I was so fortunate this year to see the piece performed by Joanna and Kennen White, who comprise Crescent Duo, and who commissioned this much wider project—that included collaborations of several poems and compositions, and which culminated in a CD entitled “Poet as Muse.”

However, I was even more honored with David Biedenbender’s most recent invitation, because David wanted me to compose a poem around a theme that he already had in mind, a poem that he then would use as inspiration for the music. As a father of two young children, David expressed to me his extreme sorrow and fear and hopelessness in response to our horrific national trend of school shootings. He asked if I might write a poem that would specifically convey that response. As our conversation continued, he decided it might be better to open the lens somewhat, to not necessarily address the shootings specifically, but to try to capture the feelings they provoke, particularly from the perspective of parents, and, in a more general way, that whole world of care and concern.

I loved this idea, and set to work. As always, in beginning a poem, one has only an inkling of an idea what direction one will go, and no clue the duration of the labor. Beyond that, David gave me a deadline—something I’m not typically familiar with in writing poems, though I was glad to be put to the test. The poem that evolved—well, poems, really—it ended up being two poems—were quite challenging and involved, I’ll admit, intense work to wrestle into being—over a period of about six weeks.

Only a couple lines came to mind initially, as I pictured the horrific image of slain bodies in a school hallway: “Before they lifted me from mingled blood…” and “No world can break you.” However, though those lines were preceded by some really weak, quick, false-start stanzas—I knew that first line to come to me (“Before they lifted me from mingled blood…”), was both the spark and the emotional anchor. That’s all I knew, however, along with the fact that the emerging speaker was one of the murdered children, addressing their parents. As this poem evolved, I became more and more surprised by the tone of its voice—this “child” was, as I’d come to realize by its voice, a sage, a world-wise spirit speaking, assuaging his parents by letting them know that they (the child) had traversed other worlds already before this one, emphasizing the illusory and ephemeral and ETERNAL nature of love and its many bonds.

As the poem was a few lines in, then a few lines more, I felt compelled toward form, toward a womb to hold the poem, and it became a triolet—an age-old, highly repetitive, densely packed 8-line French form—a favorite of mine in recent years. Also, as I continued, I knew that this one poem—in the voice of a child, required a response from the parent, that it would be need to be a dialogue. However, what I felt emerging as I wound through the thorny woods of the first poem was that it felt more like a response already. Therefore, I realized, I was writing this dialogue backward—response first, call second.

I’d love to say the poems flowed—but they were two of the most difficult formal challenges I’ve experienced to date, seeing dozens of revisions in 5-6 weeks it took to make them. It is not terribly difficult to write a sketchy or mediocre triolet (oooh, I’ve made many) because five of a triolet’s mere eight lines are repeated.  In fact, I use the form in my craft course every semester because it’s a great way to get students into the thick of form as they can quickly see the poem developing. However, to write a good one is another story, and that’s what I got myself deeply caught up in, and with a deadline staring me in the face. The beauty of the form is its intense compression, yes—but I also love, with variances introduced by punctuation and syntax, to bend surprising new shapes from the sentences, and therefore new meanings. And this was crucial with this piece, a dialogue, as I wanted to create quite contrasting tones.

The poems became known as “Shell and Wing.” I’m not sure whether I’ll try to publish them as separate pieces or as one piece in two sections. The voice in “Shell,” the parents voice—is centripetal—a surrounding and pushing-in energy, communicating a desire to keep the child (as a bird, metaphorically) in its shell, as long as possible, then in its nest and close to home as it learns to fly. The poem features higher vowels, lots of breaking consonants, as I hoped to emphasize its parental anxiety. The energy I was after is one of enclosure and tension. “Wing,” then, as its precedent in counterpoint, is centrifugal—a confident pushing outward against that shell, more fluid and flighty in its language. Late in the process, I became both worried and thrilled that the poem’s sonic foreground and consciously dream-washed images might be too oblique, that the poem wasn’t communicating directly enough, or communicating what I’d hoped. A failure, as usual, so I felt. But—deadline up, I had no choice. I sent it to David, who faced his own deadline in composing the music.


What I learned from David later is that he was so moved by receiving the initial draft of “Wing,” which I’d sent to him upon its completion, that he said he began hearing a song—and singing it to himself—almost immediately after reading the poem. He was seeing into and through the language, as only musicians like him can—into the music of the words that I’d conjured. He took a couple of weeks to get back to me, due in part to end-of-semester business and, I later learned, because he was already deep in the making of his music-from-my-words after receiving my words-for-his-music. “There’s so much Music in your words, Robert,” he told me via email in responding, which lit me up—coming from this wonderful musician and composer, especially having feared I’d failed.

I can only attempt to express the depth and intensity of the feeling I had then, after David sent me the draft of his composition, which I received a couple of weeks ago. He emailed both the sheet music and an audio file. I first opened the sheet music and got immediate goosebumps looking at my poem now literally a piece of music, my poem’s lines written beneath—to me—the gorgeous hieroglyphics, the hanging drapery—of his notes, strung from their bars and measures. “Tenderly…” and “wispy, playful…” and “somber” among the composer’s instructions for the soprano, flute, clarinet, violoncello, percussion, and piano. “As warm and clear as possible…” written above a beautiful low chord composed for the piano piece.

And to see his creative decisions, which I encouraged—to draw words out, to find what music he wants in them, to repeat words, to lengthen them. But then, the music. I looked out my window at the early spring trees as the first notes of the piano began, and I was crying before I realized it. How does one describe the feeling? To have reached the hand of my poetry into the dark, and to now feel, from out of that seeming universally subconscious darkness, the hand of another art now, from somewhere, dressed as music, coming to hold the hand of my art.  Here it was—in my eyes, then ears, then heart: a song of songs. A poem translated from a feeling into words, and a composition translated from words into music.


Beyond this—I have been invited by David to hear the world premiere of his composition “Shell and Wing,” to be performed by The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in a show called “The Human Experience” on July 6-7. Click the link in the last sentence for tickets or information about that performance, should you know of anyone interested in attending.

Also, here is David’s website, where you can read news of his upcoming performances and listen to more of his incredible music.

More soon,




The Year Ahead

Hello friends! And Happy New Year!

2017 was an especially fruitful year for me that saw the publication of Our Sudden Museum, my most recent collection. I conducted several readings from that book throughout the year, and have been thrilled at its reception by many kind readers. If you’ve yet to purchase a copy, fret not, just click here. In addition to the publication of Our Sudden Museum, this year I learned that my next book, Severance, will be published by Salmon Poetry in 2019. A wild formal and stylistic departure for me, this collection follows the journey of two marionettes who escape the stage. I’m very excited to have this book on the horizon.

Due to being between two books, I’ve been doing more public readings and less drafting of new work; however, 2018 will be a working year as I continue on and will hopefully finish a working draft of a manuscript I’ve had in progress for around 4-5 years. Ever evolving, this book will include several thematic threads. Now it resembles tangled yarn—a ball of half-finished poems and a few converging motifs—but I’m looking forward to getting deep into the mess of it.

Thanks so much to all of you for your support of my work, and of poetry in general. These are nerve-wracking days that test our spirits and our resolve—to live and thrive—much less to write, as this article in Electric Lit highlights, but I feel the need to lift my pen and move forward into what I do—hoping any of my thrown sparks add to the growing light.

Love and peace to all—and hopes for a bright year ahead,



New Review in NewPages!

Thanks so much to Natalie Tomlin, for her review of Our Sudden Museum in, and to all who take a moment to read it! It is thrilling and gratifying to read another’s words about my work.

Here is a link, if you’d like to re-post the review–which is so helpful in getting the word out about my poems!

Click here if you’d like to read other reviews and interviews of my work. Thanks, as always, for your support! 

Discussions: Our Sudden Museum

Thanks to Kimberly Ann Priest for this challenging and delightful interview in The Tishman Review about Our Sudden Museum.

To read more conversations about Our Sudden Museum, click below, or visit the Media page.

Thanks for your support!

Full Bloom

Hello, friends. This spring and summer I’ve been quite busy, doing more than 10 readings to promote my most recent collection, Our Sudden Museum, published in April. I’m so thankful to everyone who has hosted my readings and been in attendance, and to those who have purchased copies of my new book. If you still don’t have a copy and are interested in picking one up, head over to Amazon, or if, like me, you’d rather support the publisher of the book, head over to Salmon Poetry.

I’ll be doing a few readings in September—if you’d like to go, head on over to the Readings page for details. 

If you’d like to read some recent interviews about Our Sudden Museum, check out a couple from this spring, like  this one over at Michigan Quarterly Review, or here at The Ribbon. 

Summer is a typically a lull-time for me, creatively, so it’s been nice to focus on doing readings, traveling and enjoying time with my family. I’m looking forward to the fall, when I’ll dive back in to some new poems and continuing work on my most recent manuscript, A Man Carrying A Corpse, begun in 2013.

And wow: huge hurrah for summer’s big unexpected blooming: I’m most thrilled to announce that last week, Salmon Poetry accepted my most recent manuscript, Severance, which they will publish in Spring, 2019. A sharp stylistic departure from the realism of Our Sudden MuseumSeverance is a linked collection of poems taking as its core metaphorical plot the escape of two marionettes, Professor and Grief, who sever their lines and escape the theater and the play Winterland, in which they are the primary characters. For more information about Severance, and to listen to “Grief in the Apples,” a poem from the collection, click here.

Thanks, as always, for supporting me in my word wanderings.