We Did Not Fear The Father: New & Selected Poems contains the best of forty years of Charles Fort. Ranging easily through a dizzying array of forms—sonnets, villanelles, prose poems, sestinas, elegies, blank verse, haiku, and modular poems, for starters—Charles Fort here demonstrates, unequivocally, that he is a master of his craft. By turns surreal, tender, terrifying, absurd, and soulful, Fort’s work churns with passionate, forceful expression. Fort owns the masters.
In his poem entitled “Race War,” Charles Fort concludes that “earth is not sufficient and earth is our only companion.” But here is a poet who can weave magic out of that bleak fact. In We Did Not Fear the Father, I am ever the great blues tradition not only in American music but also in American culture: Fort is one of those ingenious improvisers who can take what little the world leaves him and transform it into tunefulness, forever staying ahead of all that would destroy him in realms both human and natural. Whether meditating on his wife’s tragic death, on the innocence of his sleeping child, on the sufferings of his brother, or whatever else, this writer’s way with rhythms and cadences, his simply astonishing command of forms (from prose poem to villanelle to free verse, blank verse and haiku), his plain greatness of heart: all these remind us that to the eye that would seek it and to the voice that would articulate it, beauty is an abiding thing. Charles Fort’s readers should rejoice once again to have his testimony to that glorious truth.
Vermont Poet Laureate
We Did Not Fear the Father: New and Selected Poems by Charles Fort is a powerful, sometimes an overwhelming, collection. It boils with passion in its observations about social justice; it murmurs its intimate but respectful love poems, and it weeps frankly and openly in the heart-tearing elegies. Every poem, every line, is charged with feeling.
But these are not dithyrambic outpourings. There is a startling abundance of formal usages. Surrealism is employed for the musical violence with which it can color metaphors and there are jazz-rock-blues rhythms behind many of the phrasings. But there are also more traditional forms and variations, villanelles, modular poems in which lines and phrases can be transposed from one place to another so that the meanings of words, sentences, and even of rhythms change, and there are poems that build upon the words of other poets like Tennyson and Dickinson. Here is an amazing array of forms, both traditional and experimental, and these forms are forcefully expressive; they are not mere showpieces.
I have known and admired Mr. Fort’s poems for some decades now, but much of the work here is new to me. I have been profoundly impressed—and moved.
It is a good sign when a poet is hard to pigeonhole, and indeed Charles Fort defies easy categorization. He writes prose poems that declare they are sonnets, and sonnets that declare they are Psalms. His villanelles are often ludically experimental, while his free verse displays a formal rigor. These poems are in lively conversation with—listening and talking back to--the Western canon. Fort executes surreality with wry humor and political spark (“T. S. Eliot was a Negro”; “Autobiography of Nine Genres” where “There is a georgic didactic descriptive verse inside the washing machine knocking against the oak tree…”), but ultimately these poems are grounded in the real world and felt emotions, and he writes poignantly about family love and loss When a night-shift factory working father brings back ball bearings from the factory for his children to play with as marbles (“the largest on the block”), we feel the weight of those steel spheres, humble gestures of love, on which so much vast machinery depends.
A. E. Stallings