Short-shot Review

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc: Death of a Ventriloquist (University of North Texas 2012)

In Gibson Fay-LeBlanc’s debut collection, which won the 2011 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, we get, as the title suggests, the poet as ventriloquist, yet there is no subterfuge, no throwing of the voice, no disguising patter. Instead, the audience is allowed to see the lips move and the hands work the dummy’s jaws; we are invited to watch the thinking  behind the performance, for the poems in this collection are focused on the act of creation on how language  transforms everyday life into something more. 

For example, in “How to Make Fatherhood Lyrical,” the speaker says, “I could describe the arc of piss/ as sanctifying the changing table// or argue that his wailing resembles/ a certain style of opera—”  

However, as the title also states, at the end of every creation, there is a death. The poems are tinged with a darkness that is aware of the fact that, often:

        “It happens off stage, off

         page, off-ed— not by

         voices, not by a dummy—

        by the sound of no

        one, no clapping, nothing

        said or to say, empty


The answer to this silence, the ventriloquist says, is to learn how “to listen” as life—a son, birds, the flowers, the latter two also featured prominently in the poems—carries on. In Fay-LeBlanc’s first collection, he has pulled off a masterful show, placing the act of making in the center of the spotlight, yet, at the same time, keeping the mystery of it alive.