Kathy Fagan keeps returning to what matters: family and relationships
The 45 poems of Bad Hobby, the new poetry collection by Kathy Fagan, cover a variety of subjects — birds, nature, flowers, weather, handkerchiefs, capitalism, school, and more. As diverse as the subjects are, Fagan returns in almost every poem to the things that matter most — the family and relationships that shape who we are, how we think, what we do, and what we believe.
The poems reflect the understanding that these relationships change over time. Children become adults. Adults grow old. Caregivers become care receivers. Families can grow apart. The father who hoisted you on his shoulders now depends upon you to clip his nails and take him to doctor’s appointments. The friend who taught you the names of the birds is harmed by her father.
Relationships can be confusing. The mother who fed you also locked you out of the house, forcing you to take refuge under a willow tree. You wonder why your father picked his teeth rather than brushed them. And instead of finding yourself at day care or kindergarten, you’re bringing your parents to the senior services center.
As Fagan writes repeatedly in these poems, relationships and family are what matter. For good and for bad, they anchor us to life. But they’re also constantly moving, changing, and evolving.
These days, just before dawn, I find myself
asking mom if I can stay home from school.
I teach school now and mom is dead, but
when I was a kid and said I didn’t want to go,
she wouldn’t make me. She’d pass a cool palm
over my forehead and get on with her day.
Sometimes we’d nap together, but mostly she
went to her job and I’d be alone all day.
I don’t remember what I did, and she never
once asked me, never once asked why
I wanted to stay home, and so I didn’t ask
myself. She must have trusted me, or not
much cared, which may be trust’s result.
I stayed home because some days it felt
perilous to be seen, and other days it felt
perilous not to be, and these mornings it is
so much both that I do not tell my students
or family because I think they must trust me,
and because I think they don’t much care
whether I’m alone all day with them or not.
Fagan has published several poetry collections, including Moving & St Rage (1999), The Raft (1985), The Charm (2002), Lip (2009), and Sycamore (2017). Her poems have been published in a wide variety of journals and literary magazines, including The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Slate, The New Republic, The Nation, and Poetry, among others. She’s received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, The Frost Place, the Ohio Arts Council, and other organizations. The director of Creative Writing and the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, she is Professor of English, poetry editor of OSU Press, and advisor to the literary magazine The Journal.
The poems of Bad Hobby seem familiar because they are familiar. We recognize ourselves in these lines and stories. We see ourselves as children, adults, and the elderly. We learn that our parents are not omnipotent, and we discover that we aren’t, either. These poems by Fagan reflect an understanding of life.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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