Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest by B.H. Fairchild
Reviewed by Billy Hughes


Wordsworth prefaced his "experiment[al]" publications of the early 19th century with, among other things, an insistence on the use of "real language of men in a state of vivid sensation." A little over a century later the Imagists echoed the sentiment, favoring "a sparse descriptive style" predicated upon "the vocabulary and rhythms of common speech." Reading through B.H. Fairchild's Early Occult Memory Systems of The Lower Midwest one finds the essence of these schools of thought. The "direct treatment," both of language and subject matter, readily apparent in the presentation of:

…an empty field near Black Bear Creek in western Oklahoma, my father saying, You had the dream, Horse, and two men toss a baseball back and forth as the sun dissolves behind the pearl-gray strands of a cirrus and frayed, flaming branches along the creek…

Later, in the same poem, "Moses Yellowhorse is throwing water balloons from the Hotel Roosevelt," Fairchild vividly describes an impromptu ball-field, how his

…father and his brothers move behind a scrim of dust in a fallow wheat field, a blanket stretched between two posts to make a backstop, a stand of maize to mark the outfield wall.

Fairchild's crisp narrative continues in "The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West." He puts his subjects so concretely onto the page you, as reader, fully expect them to stand and walk around on that white background. We see, emphasis on see –

The old roughnecks between jobs drunk in their cars outside the bowling alley; the schoolteacher in her rented room in love with the mechanic and dreaming of moving to Houston: new front tires for the Dodge, bright yellow curtains for the kitchen windows, a TV…3 a.m., the welder on No Doz and Benzedrine smoking his last Pall Mall, listening to Tammy Wynette, waiting for the driller to show.

It's Fairchild's use of the specific – not city, but Houston; not car, but Dodge; not cigarette, but Pall Mall; not singer, but Tammy Wynette – which stimulates the senses. The poem continues on without breaking from its barrage of detail, moving from "Tommy Johnson, the old ex-wobbly who / hauled mud for the Lacey brothers, skull crushed from a dropped / drill collar" on through "oilfield kids standing in line at The El Dorado Theatre in / Snyder to see King Solomon's Mines." The voice of a storyteller resides in the pages of this book, a sense of place alive in each poem – the Midwest served up here.

The book itself is structured in five parts, all concerned with memory, that which contains "everything you did or felt or thought." Part one, images of youth and place – baseball, Ford's, chokecherries; Kansas, La Grange, Elk City, and Battle Creek, Michigan. Part two introduces a less dense line, with the exception of the previously mentioned "Decline of Utopian Ideas," In part three the poem turns in a long narrative titled "The Blue Buick." Here the poet comes closest to realizing his search for "who I am." It is here as well that the poet acknowledges those who have come before – Cendrars, Dickinson, O'Connor, Crane, Chekov, and Roy Eldridge Garcia. "Ideas of things, quality, and event coalesce" in the penultimate section, all before the "great forgetting" of that "old dream of being." The images and reflections seen throughout the book in the closing prose piece, in a journal/memoir style, all set up with the epigraph:

He inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty (of memory) must select places and form mental images of the things they wish to remember and store those images in the places, so that the order of the places will preserve the order of the things, and the images of the things will denote the things themselves, …
Cicero in De oratore, speaking of the poet Simonides

This is poetry of experience – Americana; baseball, Ford's, Buick's, machine shops, the Midwest – and the human condition; connecting with many readers through the former and all through the latter.


1Rivera-Garza, Cristina. No One Will See Me Cry. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2003. 10-63.