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Fanny Says

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Nickole Brown
  • Date Published: April 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-938160-57-8
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 136pp
  • Price: $16.00
  • Review by: Benjamin Champagne
Somebody pour me / a fresh Pepsi?” Fanny Says is an amalgam of the south. A woman striving for class in a society that worked hard against her. The author Nickole Brown peels away the caricature that could be Frances Lee. What is revealed is Fanny, an archetypal southern woman, yes, but a participant in a modern and changing world. There is a universalism at work in Fanny Says that Brown allows and directs rather than forms and shifts. It is a dense work of poems, functioning as a memoir and a history lesson by way of the comedian. Brown is always tender but does not shy from exposing faults and social problems. Her ability to record and recreate the things her grandmother said is a prowess far beyond her. The reader is so immersed in Fanny it is as if we know her. Getting to know Fanny is like examining America, first the shoes, then the belt, and finally the hair-do.

Well, fuck, Betty Sue, I never did see that coming. / Can you believe?” The first poem starts with the phrasing of the south. It determines the tone and gives the reader a legend to begin interpreting all the places on the map in which they will go. The poem is titled “Fuck” and the second stanza gives the reader what they need to know.
Imagine: not a word cold-cocked or screwed to the wall
but something almost resigned—a sigh, an oh, well,
the f-word made so fat and slow it was basset hound,
chunky with an extra syllable, just enough weight
to make a jab to the ribs more of a shoulder shrug.
Think of what’s done to “shit” in the South; this is
sheeee-aaatt but flicked with a whip, made a little more
Fanny is treated like a curse word turned beautiful. She is examined and turned over thoroughly, “Because she thought even fish said something about class.” And Fanny examined everything. She offered the advice of a debutante who seemed to acquire debutante knowledge merely second-hand. Nickole Brown knows the truth about her world because she knows the truth about her grandmother. In one of her Fanny Linguistics:” pieces, the author explains her own name:
What people don’t know about my name
is that my grandmother gave me that “k”
                         —my very own unexpected
[ . . .]
A mis-
            spelling, really—
                            the same botched phonetics of all her
girls’ names,
       mispelled but fancy.
The page moves like Fanny’s thought processes. And though it is relentless in comedy, it also takes darker and more socially conscious turns. In “A Genealogy of the Word,” Brown tackles Fanny’s use of “the n-word.” The historical regression of a culture is tested through her poems and portrayal of her grandmother.

Earlier in the trajectory of the narrative, Fanny advised Nickole on how to be a lady. This seemed humorous yet acceptable. The South is steeped in tradition that retains some relevance to the modern age, but racism is not one that Brown favors for the progression of humanity or society:
Fanny was authoritative
          with her cussing, unabashed
          with cocksucker and fucker and dick.

Most times, I’d laugh, pour her a fresh Pepsi
          or do whatever else she was barking out,
          but that word made me hot
          with shame; out of her mouth

it was visible, a skidmark, a shit
This is a commentary on the South as a whole. As Fanny sits espousing the wonder of Crisco and Pepsi and telling tale after tale of how she got over on a man who was getting over on her, the reader enters the mind of controlled deviance. This is what society accepts and yet it is all off. It is wrong somehow. When Fanny ventures into racism, that gut feeling rises above. The reader becomes aware of the inherent backwards position of a life lived merely in tradition.

Fanny Says remains a tender character study above all else. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a film adapted from this. It endures sentiment and challenges social notions. It is true to humanity and breathed with life. Near the end of the book rests “An Invitation for My Grandmother”:
When Mama called to say you were
gone, I was in New York and climbed
the impossible top of a brownstone to talk
myself down.
Brown has climbed to the top of New York and must remind herself of her beginnings. Her racist grandmother Fanny drinking Pepsi is a part of her and a part of everyone. Sitting atop a brownstone, she says good-bye and, in “Fanny Asks Me a Question Before I’d Even Ask Myself,” remembers Fanny unabashedly asking: “You ain’t a lesbian, are you?”
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Review Posted on May 04, 2015

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