A review of

Garage

by Aaron Fagan

Central question: Isn’t a poem a kind of garage, and can’t you throw anything you want in there?
Format: 76 pp., paperback; Size: 8 ½" x 5 ½"; Price: $14.95; Publisher: Salt; Number of appearances of the word shit in the poem “Scatology”: four; Number of times the same poem talks about imagining an audience and applause: two; Book is blurbed by: Harold Bloom; Phrase author rhymes with alcoholic: “inner-Jackson-Pollock”; Author lives in: the Bronx; Time author spent cranking out the poems: “over a decade”; Representative lines: “The Angel of Death doesn’t live in my refrigerator although / The mayonnaise has shown some dangerous signs of age.”

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.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Idra Novey

Idra Novey’s first book of poems, The Next Country, will be published in fall 2008. Her recent poems appear in Slate, AGNI, the Paris Review, and Ploughshares. A book of her translations of Brazilian poet Paulo Henriques Britto was published in 2007.

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