Richard Fein, The Required Accompanying Cover Letter, Parallel Press, 2011
Reviewed by Judy Swann
Any poet who has ever received a rejection letter will get a good laugh out of the first and last poems in Richard Fein’s chapbook, the eponymous “The Required Accompanying Cover Letter” and “A Guilt-Free Story.” Both poems employ a persona I call the “Poet in Dudgeon,” who refuses to grovel before even a rejecting editor. He won’t submit, with all the derogation that submission implies. Instead he deigns to choose the editor’s journal, assessing it to be worthy of his “immortal scribbles.” When the editor is “sorry” to have rejected the submission, the Poet in Dudgeon ridicules the perfunctory nature of that word, calls it the editor’s “euphemistic snicker” and adverts that it is he, the poet, who is sorry to have applied to such a sorry venue. It’s all quite clever and authentic.
Other persona Fein uses in this collection are the Computer Nerd, the Reporter, and the Lovelorn Man, sometimes all in the same poem. One of the purest Reporters poems, the aptly titled “Second Funeral,” tells the story of a box of letters found in the rubble of a demolished building.
Rat droppings, I must wash my hands
he says, after reading the contents. Apparently a young girl who suffered from tuberculosis in the early years of the previous century wrote a box’s worth of letters from a sanatorium in Switzerland.
…miss you…can’t wait to come home
But the letters end suddenly in 1929 and the Reporter is not “anyone at all” to her; and she not being “famous” means that he will put the box out for the “garbage men”:
Can’t keep the letters, no masterpiece of prose
The Reporter is as cold as the tubercular girl is pathetic and the Poet in Dudgeon is irascible.
In “Rhetorical Questions About the Ultimate Cause,” we meet the Lovelorn Man, who asks
Am I now in pain
because I did everything to drive her away?
In “True Valentine”, borrowing the keen eye of the Reporter, he shows us his heart:
When Aztec priests ripped one out
with obsidian blades and held it high in the sun
it still pulsed atop the stone altar.
The heart is acted upon but is no actor.
But the Lovelorn Man is at his best when he channels the Poet in Dudgeon to tell us about his dying father in a poem called “Crosscurrents”:
I curse, I cradle him.
How dare he wither to such a state
that the bathroom recedes to light year distances?
That fecal smell, he averts his dimming eyes.
I give him a rare kiss.
Both father and son rage in this poem, they communicate across the body’s ungovernable language: a crumpled sheet pinching the sick man’s back, a little boy taught by his father not to cry.
Pain parts the curtain of our proprieties
Like the mother who enters this poem “ever tidy” as she restores order, the Computer Nerd enters the collection. He is the one who makes the peace between the Poet in Dudgeon and the Lovelorn Man, with his eye for “silly” detail and his odd tenderness. In “God the Geek is Lonely,” Fein writes:
Yet even the divine geek wearies of fingering his joystick…
How depressing such a site with so few hits can be
…seeks to fill his page with spiritual spam
Fein is not a master craftsman. His language is casual and almost conversational throughout, but he has a gift for monologue and a good sense of humor. You will enjoy this chapbook.
Judy Swann lives in gorgeous Ithaca, NY in a small house painted in Frida Kahlo colors. Her poetry has appeared in Lilliput Review, Verse Wisconsin, Soundzine and other places both in print and online. She is an Iowan who often visited Wisconsin in her youth.