A review of
by Aaron Fagan
Way back in the book-writing era, Plato wrote about the “old quarrel between philosophy and poetry.” If the quarrel seemed old to Plato while writing The Republic, to make it seem new in 2008 requires some serious ingenuity. In his inventive first book, Garage, Aaron Fagan seems to be the poet for the job. Like Plato, Fagan is interested in definitions: what kind of philosophizing in a poem is an unearned indulgence, while another sort of philosophizing might qualify as art.
Fagan’s sly humor is key to making this debate seem new and necessary. In “Oceanic,” he declares there is no need for poetry to address “how inarticulate we are.” So, he muses in his next stanza, why not be happy “leaving in a line like— / What will my dog do to retain my attention?” This unexpected leap between the attention-getting ploys of poetry and those of Fagan’s dog is clever but also insightful. Artists want attention, pets want attention, but only the latter can risk looking pathetic and get away with it. Where Plato was concerned with the ways poetry could be dangerous, Fagan’s worry, in 2008, is embarrassment.
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