Billy Collins on the Mind

I have Billy Collins on the mind today, and I admit this isn’t a typical thing. I haven’t taught his work in at least five years, since I last taught Intro to Poetry and used his collection Sailing Around the Room as a means to show students that poetry can indeed be accessible, even funny. I have Billy Collins on my mind, though, because of an interview I heard yesterday that he did with Diane Rehm of NPR. He was there to discuss his new book, The Rain in Portugal. For a moment, I almost shrugged and shut off the interview, but then I pondered why I didn’t want to listen to him. He is, after all, a former U.S. Poet Laureate and someone whose work often made me laugh in the past. Yet, as one of the callers noted, there has long been a backlash against Collins’ work. For some, his work isn’t academic enough. For others, his poetry doesn’t follow any conventional forms (which certainly isn’t true). And yet, he, along with Mary Oliver, who also faces similar criticism, are probably the two most well-known living American poets in existence, other than maybe W.S. Merwi or Sharon Olds. How many other poets even get an interview on one of NPR’s most well known programs?

I’m glad I kept the interview on because there are several points Collins made about poetry that could be seen as a reflection of his own work. He noted that when he gave a reading in a rural community years ago, one of the attendees called his work “prose.” But as Collins noted, anyone who has been paying attention to poetry since Modernism in the early 20th Century will know that poetry moved away from fixed forms about 100 years ago. If  we want to be really picky, we can go back to Whitman, a few decades before Modernism. The attendee’s comment, however, speaks to the fact that many American don’t pay that much attention to modern poetry and therefore believe it should operate in fixed forms and employ tight meters and end rhymes. Even the title of Collins new book challenges that notion. It isn’t titled the Rain in Spain, but rather, the Rain in Portugal, challenging expectations of what poetry should be. Collins probably has the biggest audience of readers than any current living American poet. I am certain, in fact, that his new book, published by Random House, one of the largest existing publishing houses, will earn him even more readers. I’m sure, too, that when some of them open the book, they may be surprised how Collins is able to write about ordinary things (which also became more accepted under the guise of Modernism nearly), and that he rarely writes formalist verse.

There is something to be said, too, for the fact that Collins work is SO accessible. That’s not to say it doesn’t have punch or that he’s not capable of writing about serious subjects, but Collins is a far cry from John Ashbery or any of the other New York School poets that are still all the rage in a number of well-known lit mags. (When is this imitation going to end?) I found myself really agreeing with Collins on one point during the interview. He doesn’t like poems that start with the obscure. For him, that violates the trust of the reader. He stated that it’s okay for a poem to eventually become difficult and obscure, but only after the reader’s trust has been earned. That’s something to ponder.

Billy Collins may be a celebrity in poetry, but widening the audience for the genre is a good thing. I think we should be a little easier on Collins and at least be happy that someone with such a large profile is out here as  a poetry advocate.




New Review/Upcoming Readings

I want to thank fellow poet Matthew Hamilton for this new review of Waiting for the Dead to Speak. Since Matthew is a vet, I appreciate his close analysis of some of my poems that deal with war from the perspective of a civilian who had friends that had to do two or three tours in Iraq. I am also grateful for the closing words of his review:

I admire Fanelli’s bravery enormously. This is not an arrogant poet seeking recognition. Fanelli writes from a sympathetic and forgiving heart. He encourages us to stand fast, to claw our way out of the disillusioned and absurd world of the rabbit hole.

I also want to note that the Scranton book launch is coming up this Friday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Olde Brick Theatre. This month, specifically within the next two weeks, I have readings in Reading, Scranton, Boston, and NYC. Here are the dates and info:

Thursday, October 6 2016 6-8 p.m.

First Thursday Poetry Night

GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, Reading, PA

Friday, October 7 2016 7-9 p.m.

Scranton Launch Party for Waiting for the Dead to Speak

Old Bricke Theatre, 126 W. Market Street, Scranton, PA

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Newtown Publishing Center Showcase

289 Elliott Street,  Newtown Upper Falls, MA

Thursday, October 12 2016 7-9 p.m.

Poetry Night at the KGB Bar

KGB Bar, New York, New York

I will be one of the featured poets this evening.

Here is a flyer for the reading in Boston. I’m grateful to have two book launches within one weekend!



Thinking of NEPA, Thinking of Its Poets

Thursday evening was a celebration of the northeast, Pennsylvania literary community. The evening marked the release of an anthology I had opportunity to co-edit, Down the Dog Hole: 11 Poets on Northeast PennsylvaniaWe gathered at Keystone College in La Plume to read from the book, but also to mark the relaunch of Nightshade Press. An English professor at Lackawanna College, I was happy to see folks from other local colleges present, including Penn State Worthington-Scranton and Wilkes University. My hope is to continue to see this community grow among the colleges because we do far better when we support each other.

I’ve always struggled with my identity as it pertains to NEPA. As a teen, I couldn’t wait to get out of here, especially when the punk rock venues I hung out in  high school closed. They were my only refuge in the area, places I could go where I didn’t feel like an outcast. They got me interested in writing, music, and art. I escaped to college outside Philly and spent most of my weekends hanging in the city, record shopping, book shopping, and reading some of my first poems (very bad drafts) at the Philly area open mics. I cut my teeth in the poetry community in Philly and still keep close connections to that area today. Graduate school brought me back here, and I stayed. At this point, I’m grateful for the chance to teach what I love at Lackawanna College and to help foster the growing literary community here.

As I listened to nine other poets read from the anthology the other night, I was reminded how much there is to mine in this area. One of the poems in the book references John Mitchell, the labor leader who lead mining strikes in the early 20th century and met with Teddy Roosevelt for labor negotiations. Other poems celebrate the natural beauty of this area. Now that I’m older, I’m more comfortable with my place as a poet as it pertains to my native area. As I joined friends the other evening to celebrate this literary community, I was reminded how much has yet to be written about this area. The anthology is a nice start.









Publication Day!

Waiting for the Dead to Speak, my new book of poems, is now out in the world. I have a lot of people to thank for helping me along the way with these poems, offering feedback, making them the best that they could be. I am grateful to the tight-knit writing community at Wilkes, at Binghamton, and in NEPA. I am grateful for my friends in writing communities who I have met at various readings and stayed in touch with. I’m glad these poems are out, and I’m eager to share them.

If you can’t make any upcoming readings, you can get the book online here. 

Gearing up for fall

There are still weeks of summer left, but with August halfway over, I am looking towards fall. I’ll be on the road, doing a lot of readings for Waiting for the Dead to Speak, which comes out Sept. 12 through NYQ Books.  I will have the pleasure of reading at the Jersey Shore, Philly, Boston, Ithaca, Binghamton, Lancaster, York, and a number of other spaces and communities. When the fall is a little closer, I will post a list of full reading dates here and on my social media accounts.

I am also thrilled to announce a special Writers’ Showcase at The Scranton Fringe Festival during the first weekend of Oct. This is a wonderful line-up.

ws promo EC copy.jpg


Preorder of Waiting for the Dead to Speak Now Available!

My new book, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, (NYQ Books), is now available! The book will officially be released on Sept. 12, but you can order today. Here is the link.  You have the option of ordering from a number of different places, including Barnes n Noble, Small Press Distribution, and elsewhere. If you want to preorder from Amazon, you can do that too. Here is the link.

Every writer hopes to grow in time and strengthen his/her craft, and I will state that I am eager to share these poems with the world. They are much different than Front Man and All That Remains. I hope that readers like them, and I will be doing  A LOT of readings throughout the fall. More details to come on that when the fall is closer.




Two New Reviews

I had the chance to review two new collections of poetry for At the Inkwell and TheThePoetry, George Wallace’s A Simple Blues with a Few Intangibles (FootHills Publishing) and Stay with Me Awhile by Loren Kleinman (Winter Goose Publishing).

Checkout the review of Wallace’s book here, and check out the review of Kleinman’s new collection here.

Where the Person and Political Intersect in Poetry

I’m fascinated by the notion of “political poetry,” of writing verse about social and political issues that withstands the test of time and does not become dated. It’s no easy task, and it’s a challenge that I’ve dealt with in my body of work. Recently, Poets’ Quarterly published my essay, “Going Inside the Cave: Where the Personal and Political Intersect in Contemporary Narrative American Poetry,” on this very topic. I looked at the work of four contemporary poets, Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes, specifically their address of personal history and racial issues, and Sharon Olds and Gary Soto, specifically their use of confessional poetry as a means to address issues of gender and identity.

I’d be interested in any comments and thoughts readers may have about the essay. I also encourage you to follow Poets’ Quarterly on Facebook and Twitter because the editors do a wonderful job of posting articles about the current state of contemporary poetry.

Two New Publications

I have two new poetry publications that I want to share. My poem, “Burying the Rabbit,” has been published by CityLitRag. Read it here.  Make sure to read the rest of the issue, too.  Some of my poet friends are also in that issue, including Christine Gelineau, Amye Archer, and Lori A. May. In addition, the issue also features New York Times best-selling author Marge Piercy.

Another one of my poems, “American Signs,” has been published by The Adirondack Review. Read it here.

on Phil Levine’s passing

By now, the poetry world knows that former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine has passed. There is so much that I could say about Levine’s work. Simply put, when I was younger and bought copies of What Work Is, News of the World, and The Simple Truth, it had a profound impact on my poetry. Levine taught me much about the narrative form, poetry of place, and finding dignity in work, even the grueling factory jobs he worked for all of those years. He taught me that I could draw from personal experience and memory and use it to carve out poems and find my voice.

To mark Levine’s passing, I offer an elegy, written by my friend, Dante Di Stefano, and published a few days ago by Rattle. Read it here. Celebrate the man, and celebrate his work.