A reading in March, Jewish poet series at Buffalo JCC
on Taking a Walk in My Animal Hat:
“In Taking a Walk in My Animal Hat, Charlene Fix, noticing hair on her arms, places us not with “those positioned in High Places,” occupying a separate link on The Great Chain of Being, but at ground level, humbly sharing the earth with our sister and brother animal life forms. Considering theirs and our dewlaps, calves, pigeon-toes and myriad transformations, in the manner of each species plying its gifts, Fix employs a nimble, powerful intellect and deep senses of humor and rhythm with empathy and understanding classically human, uniquely hers.” -Jerry Roscoe, author of Solving for X
“Taking A Walk in My Animal Hat is a tapestry of exquisite poems, phrases and lines that stun, rejuvenate, and have, as Audre Lord hungers for, ‘the potential to ‘set us free.’ These poems are for those of us weary of what Adrienne Rich terms the ‘atrophy of our power to imagine other ways of navigating into our collective future.’ Charlene Fix’s collection is the antidote to that atrophy. It is a call to don the ‘animal hat,’ to ‘manifest the state or aspiration of the soul.’ One poem after another takes us there, always surprisingly….The poetry is knowledgeable, wise, whimsical, challenging, loving, and draws from a wide repertoire – paintings, farms, porches, family, the marketplace, loss, life. This collection is a foundation for recovery, for restoration, for inspiration.” -Anna Soter, Professor Emerita at The Ohio State University, author of Breathing Spaces.
Kathleen Burgess’ Review of Taking a Walk in My Animal Hat (Bottom Dog Press, 2018) by Charlene Fix, published in Pudding magazine:
Charlene Fix, in her newest book of poems, Taking a Walk in My Animal Hat (Bottom Dog Press, 2018), represents a wonderland of animals she’s known: family dogs, cats, parakeets, turtles, as well as other domestic and wild animals, several in a zoo. She draws parallels close enough for us to see what we share with our animal nature and ancestry. In her poem with the same first line, “‘I Was a Little Animal Then,’ as I am now,” one may read “I am a little animal” as though Charlene had written I am a little hungry, or sleepy, animal as adjective, which merriam-webster.com confirms, “of, relating to, resembling, or derived from animals.” She shares the long hair on her arms with distant animal relatives. She has “Calves” which ache. She walks in a hat with ears—“I loved it instantly, as sometimes happens when / clothing manifests the state or aspiration of the soul.” Some humans make sport of her hat, but she takes this as compliment. The poems throughout approach the political sideways, with a subtle touch, a mix of, say, Where the Wild Things Are with the ubiquitous pussy hats of 2017.
In “Dewlaps,” first poem of the first section journey through owl, Ms. Fix praises a St. Bernard-Pyrenees mix: “His dewlaps drape his jaws like heavy quilts, / they are twin flags of the Duchy of Dog…thick like a dowager’s brocade. / They waft so slowly that they slow / the whole world down.” She observes that “the mystery of gravity working on meat” includes a human face aging. She finds allusions to dewlaps in James Joyce, as the father of Stephen Dedalus declares a hotel keeper is “‘very moist and watery about the dewlaps, / God bless him.’” Here, too, in paintings by Edvard Munch of “curtains and assignations” she is taken by the possibility that, “Ah, Polonius! Perhaps a living arras / would have stopped the sword!” Historical allusions lighten this discomfiture: the human face develops dewlaps with age. This connects us to our dogs with truly pendulous flesh.
In “Translated” a boy is magicked by an old neighborhood woman, as in an old fairy tale. Charlene writes, “He is my son, so I believe this happened as he said: / that one day the old woman turned him into a duck. // On that day, he said, before she changed him back / into a little boy again, he paddled around on the porch.” This experience of childhood’s easy imagination to act oneself into animal form, is akin to early human identification with animals, dancing, to mimic, and obtain animal attributes for the purpose of hunting them. Human mortality and identification with birds occur to Ms. Fix in “Bird Berries”: “…I suspect my father in death approves this tree weeping berries into my palm / … / schooled as he is in transformation: / berries into birds soaring and splattering chalky ink / berries into daughter who by this means swallows flight / even while earth is clasping her feet.” This powerful last line could apply to mythological flights of Persephone. Although allowed to flee Hades, she is always brought back. And Syrinx, who, fleeing from Pan, is turned into reeds by the river. Also, in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Six Swans,” six brothers are turned into swans while their sister seeks to help them regain human form.
The philosophical is at work in “The Same River Twice,” as the Kokosing River alters the body of a drowned doe caught on a fork of a downed ash tree, until at last it can no longer be seen beneath “transforming leaves” and debris collected, become a dam. Fix attempts to lift the deer’s fate “above the flow, beyond erasing nature, / what Heraclitus knew, and knows.” The long ō sounds in Kokosing, foam, old railroad, so, below, swollen, bones, flow, are sounds cold and deep as that river, suitable for the metamorphosis of death by water, much as Sylvia Plath uses oo sounds of you, do, shoe, Achoo, blue, and more in the poem “Daddy.”
In “The Other Side of Love,” Ms. Fix startles with a less well-known fact about wildlife artist John James Audubon, 1785-1851, who many consider a bird lover. He categorized 700 bird species through 435 paintings of birds, but Fix reveals, “The artist loved them, so he shot them dead,” which bird lovers may find appalling. William Blake appears as an early Dr. Doolittle who can understand animal speech: He “heard the flea confess himself / so offered him to us writ large that we might see. / Surprise! Surprise! The flea is thee.” (“The Ghost of a Flea”) And in a painting of BJ Working, after Peter Zokowsky’s painting of an elephant painting, Fix sees that “One’s subject inevitably paints oneself.” The identification continues with “What Dreams May Be,” a paraphrase of Shakespeare’s “To sleep, perchance to dream…what dreams may come” imagines a dream of life as a bee, “fuzzy / monks deep in contemplation / on mountains of mere wind.”
Fix gives us plenty of leavening humor, as Arnold Schwartzenhamster weaves a “pleasure dome” of newsprint Ms. Fix has cut into ribbons for him, likening this work to that of Kubla Khan in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment.” In “Memory, with Blue Parakeet” Fix shares “It was my sister’s mischief, as much as mine / … to coax Petey—our blue parakeet who sometimes / took perplexing rides at 33 rpm on the turntable….” In a later poem, “Emordnilap” she says “I am looking for God in my dog….his head on my lap, a comforting pal. …God…rips and leaps and nips, as if a touch of evil lurks in live, a bit of the devil in lived.””
Altogether this is a warm, inventive, and wise collection for those who love their pets and animals of the wild. It asks us to remain aware of our animal nature, and our animals’ nature, bound as we are bound to a planet of animals—that we be kind, faithful, humble walking in footsteps of animals, and, indirectly, that we acknowledge our children are even closer to the animal in us. –Kathleen S. Burgess, author of What Burden Do Those Trains Bear Away
on Harpo Marx as Trickster:
“[Charlene Fix’s] book provides some welcome insight on Harpo’s function and persona, and most Marx Brothers fans will find it worthwhile reading, particularly if Harpo is their favorite of the group. Fix’s book provides a detailed account of Harpo’s performance in each production, focusing particularly on those actions and qualities that align him with the trickster figure of myth and folklore. For those who don’t have a background in literary criticism, Fix provides a very coherent introduction to the concepts on which her argument depends, and her conclusion collects all of the key points into a single section for easy review. Fix has a lot to offer fans of the Marx Brothers who are looking to appreciate them on a deeper level, and the film-by-film organization makes it easy to find the commentary about a particular production. Fix avoids jargon and ponderous prose that might discourage the lay reader from enjoying this book. The inclusion of a generous quantity of movie stills and other photographs also adds interest. Readers who are looking for a serious treatment of Harpo Marx’s comedy will be pleased with “Harpo Marx as Trickster,” and film studies scholars will find it a useful resource to further their own research.” Jennifer Garlen, Examiner.com
On Amazon: Charlene offers you lens through which to view the Harpo: the trickster archetype. She considers the implications of that archetype’s resurrection for the culture in the Marx Brothers’ films. Tricksters remind us, writ large, what it means to be human.They show us how to make necessary adjustments to our values, institutions, and cultures. She reveals Harpo’s timeless, historical, and contemporary relevance.
On Frankenstein’s Flowers:
“The rich poems of Frankenstein’s Flowers by Charlene Fix engage monsters, but never monstrosities, and find beauty in dark and unexpected places.” CW Books
“What drew me to the poems of Charlene Fix was, above all, their largeness of spirit, their wise intelligence, their delightful and urbane humor at the follies of our kind, and their fine ear for a cadenced, resonant free verse. Few poets can be genuinely funny, and, at the same time, sympathetic in the face of an acute awareness that sharpens the wit. I admired her refusal to be pious about subjects before which so many lower their voices and look mournful; she proved incapable of that secret ego ascension that aggrandizes victimhood, whereas, bypassing that indulgence, she reveals the unlikely miracle of human self-restoration, as well as how blithe the lucky ones can be. ¶And what a wide range of moods and modes these inviting poems possess, and an eclectic store of cultural references all put to poetic use for rumination, reflection, and the kind of diffraction of light that brings illumination from unexpected angles of vision. The anxiety about time of Alice’s White Rabbit becomes a metaphor for mortality; a crush on the weatherman reveals the climate of a culture; her Orpheus is an ornamental poet who fails to catch Death’s ear ‘until he opened up the vein of his despair and let it shape his plea.’ And, in a poem about Frankenstein, its syntax broken and patched and enlivened like its subject, we’re shown how an ill-made life, a ‘brain struggling against worm damage and / unaccustomed thoughts,’ can lead even the sweetest intentions to a fatal confusion.” Eleanor Wilner, author of Before Our Eyes: New and Selected Poems
Review of Flowering Bruno: a Dography:
“Yes, these are dog-besotted poems! Poetry is always besotted with something: the lost, the loved, the longing for peace or god or understanding, or, at the root of it all, more–more unspoiled details to redeem our short-lived lives. With her dear dog, Charlene Fix calls all those other subjects to the page. Come, sit, stay.” Michael J. Rosen, author of Traveling in Notions
“I am moved by Charlene’s gift, her depth and insight in portraying animal nature.” Jacquelin Smith, author of Animal Communication: Our Sacred Connection
“As I always do, I respond immediately to the Fix wit and grace on the page, the loving care she gives a poem, the craft in evidence. I am a fan.” David Citino, author of The News and Other Poems
Robert Flanagan’s review of Flowering Bruno in Columbus Dispatch.pdf
Jamie Rhein’s review of Flowering Bruno: http://www.bloggingohio.com/2006/12/12/charlene-fix-talent-and-tenacity-a-perfect-mix/
Blurbs for the forthcoming Jewgirl:
The voice of Jewgirl, whose title sets its unabashed tone, is candid, idiosyncratic, confiding, irreverent, devoted. A sprinkling of Yiddish words, like Kosher salt, enhances the flavor. Charlene Fix keeps her balance and her wits about her, “can’t sustain a grudge,” believes in “Unmyopic/Sanity,” has “a quirky gallows sense of humor” that comes with the ancestral turf. She punctures the grandiose, elevates the everyday; her style lightens history’s weight with the vital energy of exuberant “life propelled from tragedy…” And who can resist a world where one’s last supper is Chinese takeout? –Eleanor Wilner, author of Before Our Eyes: New and Selected Poems
Reading Charlene Fix’s Jewgirl is like visiting a friend’s kitchen with the whole family present–and not just Mom and Dad, but Bubbe and Zayde, and people lost in the war, and ghosts from generations back who danced the dances no one knows now, some cracking jokes, and others sighing, still others lifting their drinks to the future–L’chaim!–a future where everyone (friend and stranger, Jew and Goy, Israeli and Palestinian), will somehow find a place at this table of life, this warm kitchen where everyone fits and is fed, is held and beheld, the light leaking out, into the winter night, as if to welcome guests. Read this touching and haunting book and join your place at the table!–Philip Metres, author of Shrapnel Maps