Springtime for Fante
Dan Fante, Kissed By a Fat Waitress: New Poems, Sun Dog Press, 2008
Dan Fante has to be the angriest and edgiest writer the United States has ever produced. To read his novels, plays, short stories, and poetry is to dance on the knife’s edge of an alcohol (or sobriety)-fueled rage aimed right at the heart of all that’s unfair, mean-spirited, hypocritical, and just plain ugly in American society. Not surprisingly, his vision has offered few happy endings. For Fante’s characters the best that can usually be hoped for are bittersweet truces—with broken-hearted loved ones, the bottle, or simply their own seething minds. All of which makes Kissed by a Fat Waitress, the author’s latest collection of poems, such a revelation—for into this work more light is allowed to shine than perhaps in all of Fante’s previous books combined.
This is not to say that Fante has gone soft. Kissed by a Fat Waitress is still packed with more vitriol than most poets emit in a lifetime of writing. Targets for this rage include foolish editors, Hollywood producers, bad women of many stripes, the city of Los Angeles, John Fante (Dan’s now famous late father), and especially the author’s own broken, booze-addled past. To this more typical subject matter, though, Fante offers unusual new counterpoints, such as moving tributes to his late literary hero Hubert Selby, and anti-Iran War poem, and ironic glimpses into the low-level fame a lifetime of living and writing has finally brought him in certain little corners of the world. Especially poignant is ‘Melrose avenue at four a.m.,’ which chronicles the tragic last moments of Nick Fante, the author’s older brother, who drank himself to death in the early 1990s.
on the car’s seat
on the floorboard
still half wasted
freaked and desperate and helpless …
And all the love and all the lies of our friendship
the years of our days and nights together
last careless reckless ride in Hollywood
What makes this book truly different from Fante’s earlier work, though, is the inclusion of many frank and vulnerable love poems to his wife and young son. Perhaps most representative of these poems is ‘you and me and our two-bedroom place,’ a deceptively simple piece written for his wife that finds Fante moving away from hammer-and-tong post-Bukowski techniques for which he has become known and engaging in a kind of lilting lyric writing that is likely to catch more than a few of his older fans a bit off guard.
in the sunshine of Playa del Ray
looking toward the ocean
blinded by our new perfection
a lizard on a warm spring wall
With this and similar poems Fante moves surprisingly easily into territory more thought of as belonging to writers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and even Pablo Neruda than the man who wrote such classic post-modernist attack pieces such as the novel Chump Change and the relentless verse of a gin-pissing-raw-meat-dual-carburator-V8-son-of-a-bitch from Los Angeles.
In the end, it is these dueling contrasts of the old Fante anger and his new found, well, happiness, that makes Kissed by a Fat Waitress such a fascinating and satisfying work. If Dan Fante’s earlier books chronicled the train wreck that is so many people’s lives, then Kissed by a Fat Waitress is his attempt to pull the survivors from the wreckage. Both Fante’s old fans and lovers of gutty, uncompromising poetry in general owe it to themselves to experience how he manages to pull off such an unlikely and heartening feat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Woodard was born in Anaheim, California and lives in nearby Long Beach. He is the author of the novels Heaping Stones—named one of the best fiction books of 2006 by Ottawa Xpress—and What Love Is (forthcoming). Burning Shore Press will be bringing out his first volume of poetry, King Of Long Beach, in 2008. He is currently at work on a third novel, tentatively titled Backwaters of Beauty and blogs at King of Long Beach.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, May 29th, 2008.