b.h. fairchild | at the café de flore

20 01 2011

The Persistence of Memory – 1931 | by Salvador Dali

PoetryDispatch No. 339 | January 20, 2011

At the Café de Flore

by B.H. Fairchild

This evening, as I am entering the Café de Flore to buy some cigarettes, I meet Levastine with a half-drunken companion who introduced himself as the “abbe defroque snrrealiste.” He was the first surrealist priest. –Mircea Eliade, Journal I, 1945-1955

I have anointed boutonnieres and cats,
preached homilies on spectacles and bats,
baptized the morning, evening, and full moon,
and blessed both happiness and gloom.
I proclaim the doctrine of broken clocks:
on every hour, remove your shoes and socks,
sing the Marseillaise nine times backwards
and consider, please, the lives of birds
(there are fewer than before the war).
Père Surrealiste does not wish to bore
with his prayers to orchids and champagne,
the sanctity of wine, the uselessness of pain,
but twenty miles from here are flowers
growing from the mouths of boys.
For what I’ve seen there is no word,
I am the Priest of the Absurd.


B.H. Fairchild (born 1942) is an award-winning American poet and former college professor. His most recent book is Usher (W.W. Norton, 2009), and his poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, Poetry, TriQuarterly, The Hudson Review, Salmagundi, The Sewanee Review. His fifth poetry collection, The Art of the Lathe, winner of the 1997 Beatrice Hawley Award (Alice James Books, 1998), brought Fairchild’s work to national prominence, garnering him a large number of awards and fellowships including the William Carlos Williams Award, Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, California Book Award, Natalie Ornish Poetry Award, PEN Center USA West Poetry Award, National Book Award (finalist), Capricorn Poetry Award, and Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellowships. The book ultimately gave him international prominence, as The Way Weiser Press in England published the U.K. edition of the book. The Los Angeles Times wrote that “The Art of the Lathe by B.H. Fairchild has become a contemporary classic—a passionate example of the plain style, so finely crafted and perfectly pitched…workhorse narratives suffused with tenderness and elegiac music.”

Fairchild has written that a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts was vital to his career as a poet: “It’s very simple: without an NEA Fellowship in 1989-90, I would not have been able to complete my second book, Local Knowledge, nor have had the necessary time to compose the core poems for The Art of the Lathe, my third book, which, I am proud to say, received the Kingsley Tufts Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award, thus bringing my work to a wider audience than the immediate members of my family and also, therefore, making future work possible.”

He was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up in small towns in the oil fields of Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, later working through high school and college for his father, a lathe machinist. He taught English and Creative Writing at California State University, San Bernardino and Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Claremont, California with his wife and dog, Minnie.