B. H. Fairchild is one of those poets prose readers love: Meaty, maximalist, driven by narrative, he stakes out an American mythos in which the personal and the collective blur. In this, he's reminiscent of Albert Goldbarth, but whereas Goldbarth often comes back to his own experience, Fairchild is a ventriloquist of a sort.
In "Usher" -- his first collection since the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning "Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest" (2002) -- he adopts a variety of voices -- the poet Hart Crane; Rasputin's daughter, Maria; a seminary student working as a 1950s movie usher -- to evoke a territory between perseverance and despair. "A minister once told me to embrace my sorrow," recalls the armless, legless circus freak who narrates "Frieda Pushnik." "To hell with that, I said, embrace your own." Such a lack of sentimentality infuses "Usher," an insistence on seeing things as they really are. That's a vivid and compelling strategy, for at the heart of these poems is the issue of longing, of what we want and yet can never have. For Frieda, it's a feeling of belonging, "of inscrutable desire . . . that teeming, oozing, / devouring throng borne now into the midway's sunlight / that vanished, forever silent God to whom I say / again my little prayer: let me be one of them."