In Motion: Not So Ill with You and Me by Fani Papageorgiou (Shearsman Books, 2015)

Adam Day
| Reviews


Fani Papageorgiou’s newest collection of poems, Not So Ill with You and Me, is composed of four long, fragmentary poems. The book takes its title from the last sentence of George Eliot’s Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, a sentence that describes Dorothea Brooke’s life as it transitioned from greater extroversion and activity to greater self-reflection, and, perhaps paradoxically, a deeper involvement in the domestic sphere, including a  particular focus on her new husband’s wants and needs. Papageorgiou invokes this final moment of Middlemarch to argue with it, in preference for autonomy; if Not So Ill with You and Me   had a subtitle, it might read “A Study of a Life on the Move.” The poems immerse us in searching, love and loss, and unresolved mystery, as seen in some of the book’s very first lines, from “Travels Without You:”


The lagoon is dissected by your thoughts

like a railroad bridge

and sometimes

as you walk at dusk

it feels exactly like madness.


With these spare, allusive poems, Papageorgiou, at her best, engages her audience with fresh and insightful verse in which speakers often say unexpected things, and characters find themselves in unexpected places, both literal and figurative. Not So Ill works at the intersection of an expository concern with data and atmospheric (auto)biographical specifics and a spectral imagery, bringing to mind Linda Gregerson or Larry Levis, but with the brevity of line characteristic of Rae Armantrout. The poems, throughout the collection, tend to cycle quickly  from historical or scientific fact, to lyrical imagery, to (meditative or revelatory) declarative statement, to detail, as in the collection’s penultimate poem, “Seychelles, ex-Bahamas”:


Any dress looks good

in a heap on the floor.


Virgil tells us that

to prevent the men leaving,

the women set fire to the ships.


Mount Kilimanjaro is in tropical Africa

but it has snow all year round.


Focus on one thing that turns you on.

If you add sails to stone towers,

they become windmills.


Placing the burden of narration on this cyclical dynamic works best when Papageorgiou creates implicit, subtle connections, such that the poems provoke a sense of recognition, but also a sense that things don’t look quite the way they might or should. Thus, Not So Ill is permeated by uneasy relationships within the self and between the self and others, as in this stanza from the book’s second long poem, “The Steel City”:


Upon hurling yourself into the air

you instantly realized

that everything in your life

you thought was unfixable

was fixable—

except for having just jumped.

Adam Day is author of Model of a City in Civil War (Sarabande, 2015), and is the recipient of a PSA Chapbook Fellowship and a PEN Emerging Writers Award. He directs The Baltic Writing Residency in Sweden, Scotland, and Bernheim Forest.

RadioStay: Stay by Kathleen McGookey (Press 53, 2015); Radioland by Lesley Wheeler (Barrow Street Press, 2015)
Between Lives: Cities I’ve Never Lived In: Stories by Sara Majka (Graywolf Press, 2016)