Alex Umlas’s Review of “The Dead Kid Poems”

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

All too infrequently is a book reviewed with a sensitivity that not only extracts its virtues with aplomb, but enables casual readers to appreciate why a particular collection of poems deserves their immediate perusal, and lingering absorption. Alexis Rhone Fancher’s THE DEAD KID POEMS recently received such a review from Alex Umlas, and both the review and the book reviewed deserve your scrutiny. As the title suggests, the book is about an offspring’s death, though the son in this case reached young adulthood before succumbing to cancer. Taking advantage of the lax diction of American conversation, Fancher’s titular quartet of syllables haunts the familiar, colloquial question (“Do you have any kids?”) that seems to anticipate only one conversational outcome:

— Yes or No. —

“Answer the question,” one can almost hear an attorney demand in a courtroom: “– Yes or No –”


“No, buts. Answer the question: yes or no.”

In recounting how Fancher emboldens her potential answers, Umlas’s review astutely examines the manifold complexities of grief and memory. It is rare for a review to soothe and console one almost as much as the book under consideration, but the compassion exerted by Umlas will surprise you with its tender intelligence. Indeed, if Fancher’s book binds our own wounds, too, it is because the qualities noted in Umlas’s review deserve every bit of her praise.

There are, of course, a considerable number of extraordinary poems infused with the incorrigible sorrow of dead children. Ben Jonson and Michael S. Harper have short ones that sear one’s empathy with instantaneous scar tissue. David Ray’s volume of poems, SAM’S BOOK (1987), remains one of outstanding collections to take on the theme of parental mourning; and Robert Peters’s SONGS FOR A SON is perhaps even more poignant. Fancher’s book joins a very distinguished body of work addressing the plaintive intercessions of our mortality.


The Dead Kid Poems/Review

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