BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
There are few times in life where you truly understand & connect to a piece of writing as if you wrote it yourself, where you stop yourself multiple times mid-read & think: "Wait, this is actually kind of scary...This could be me." This is exactly how I felt when I read Fox Frazier-Foley's EXODUS IN X MINOR (Sundress Publications, 2015). The book is a loose narrative detailing bits & pieces of the speaker's life; it is ambiguous enough that the reader can easily insert themselves in the emotional anguish of each isolated moment, but still specific enough where a vivid world is brought to life by verse.
Frazier-Foley adeptly intertwines everyday events & conversational language in a lyrically narrative fashion, mixed seamlessly with the darkest depths of human emotion, as if the book's sky is made up of the memories of drug use, death, & the supernatural. The book immediately opens up with whiskey & Xanax, a speaker's family spread out all over America, haunting her at every turn: "There are no / such things as ghosts is something mother / never told me / beneath the tree where my family / lies," (Frazier-Foley, 12).
The use of repetition creates a narrative thread & obsession that propels the narration forward, & keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, as if they are about to collapse into a void of suburban tragedy. As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but picture a modern Greek tragedy where the characters are literally killing each other and themselves, through drugs, affairs, & isolation; even among ordinary people are the seeds of oblivion, & the bodies of ghosts.
A landscape changes everything & the landscape takes in place in upstate New York, a place where loneliness breeds like wild fire, where violence is seen as ordinary, instead of grotesque & inhuman. The speaker almost casually recalls the deaths of people in the community, repeated as if their deaths are a mantra, a comfort; in "For Maddy Lerner, Age 6, Accidentally Killed At An Outdoor Firing Range in Upstate New York," this pattern has only just begun: "Maddy, when I was your age, / Andy Boyle bought bullets / to show & tell. He got detention / and a beating," (Frazier-Foley, 15). The casual use of weapons at a young age portrays an all too familiar reality in America: violence is not only romanticized, but normalized to the point where all accountability is lost. How do children become obsessed with guns in a country where we're supposed to have everything? Versions of this question are repeated throughout, like an undercurrent.
For me, the heat of the book occurs in the poems' strangest moments, in the surreal--whenever the fox-haired girl visits a spiritualist and sees one of her past lives, I am hooked. The layers of family ancestry stretch far back beyond the reader's imagination & because of this, we feel the same sense of deja-vu, of a chronic possession; these poems obsessed with past lives devour the speaker's sense of identity, & in some way, the reader's: "Those threads flowed from my body. We had made / our kind of new...I'll find you again," (Frazier-Foley, 30). The search for a sense of identity is at the focus of the book, often complicated by small deaths that humans face everyday (through rejection, sex, alcohol) and through a murky past. At its roots, Frazier-Foley presents America as its most raw: a vicious, violent journey for discovery.
Fox Frazier-Foley is author of two prize-winning poetry collections, EXODUS IN X MINOR (Sundress Publications, 2014), and THE HYDROMANTIC HISTORIES (Bright Hill Press, 2015). She is currently editing a collection of critical writing on aesthetics titled AMONG MARGINS (Ricochet Editions, 2016), and an anthology of contemporary American political poetry titled POLITICAL PUNCH (Sundress Publications, 2016). She is a Founding Editor and Managing Editor of the university-based small press Ricochet Editions, and her essays and critical reviews have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Tarpaulin Sky, and Open Letters Monthly.