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Poetry Book Review:

Whispers Of Madmen

by Matt Fontana And R.G. Bell

whispers of madmenFew collaborative poetry books are capable of producing a stunning read, but Whispers of Madmen by Matt Fontana and R.G. Bell is one that I would recommend.

Both Bell and Fontana are established minor poets and graduates of The Citadel in South Carolina. Bell went on to receive a masters degree in creative writing from the University of Dallas. Whispers of Madmen is their first book of poems, together and individually.

In terms of poetics, Fontana and Bell each have their own distinct style. Bell is grounded in the poetics of the Postmodern era while Fontana, who has an obvious Postmodern bent himself, takes more risks in form and language while leaning slightly more formal. It is fitting that his poems appear first in the book because if I'd had to read Bell first then I might not have looked forward to reading Fontana. As it was, Fontana prepared me for Bell and was a sheer delight to read on most poems.

That's not to say that Bell is a bad poet. He has his strengths. His selection of poetry begins with a mini-theatrical piece that illustrates Bell's military background. Relying heavily on apostrophe, it is a fictionalized conversation between Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Not particularly poetic in nature, it does show Bell to have a unique sense of humor and sensitivity to language, a welcome respite from much of Postmodernism's tendency to bog itself down in intellectual navel gazing and lint picking. You'll get little of that Whispers of Madmen.

In one of R.G. Bell's finest poems you'll get a little taste of the post-avant and autumnal reflection. “October” relies on near repetition as the first and last lines of each stanza offer a twist of the previous phrase. The first two stanzas follow:
See October. Sheets of crystal on morning grass, Flannel shirts the color of leaves, Sweaters the color of corn and pumpkin, Wooly worms crossing the road, Furry forecasters of a hard winter. Hear October. Groans of hard men hauling hay, Muffled report of rifles in woods, Chainsaw promising winter heats, Boughs breaking with weight of fruit, Ripe prophets of a hard winter.
Not all of Bell's poems are this good, but he does show himself to be a poet with an eye for detail and a love of nature, if not language. In “A Romantic (Translated)” he moves back and forth between prosaic strophes and interjectory statements that give a feel of an internal conversation. Bell gives the reader plenty to chew on and his reflections are well worth a read despite his weakness at times to be overly prosaic.

R.G. Bell's half of Whispers Of Madmen is titled "Tomb Of The Dream."

Fontana, in "Incantations To The Soul" (the title of his section of poems), bursts forth with “Autumn Canticle” followed by a strong effort in “Ode To The End Of Innocence”. His opening line of the latter – "Sometimes I think I murdered him too soon" – is a startling slap in the face that kept me reading and his other lines are no disappointment either.

Matt Fontana's greatest strength is his ability to whip up a powerful turn of phrase, a ready trait in any writer. Some of his gems include: Matt Fontana's poems are full of literary and historical allusion, mostly to Viet Nam. The poems are powerful acts of conscience that explore the fragile soul of humanity in the face of war and justice. In one of the best poems I've ever read serving as an anti-abortion creed, he uses the voice of a pregnant woman struggling with the decision on what to do and effectively ends the poem with a powerful close and reference to Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ. While not everyone will appreciate the strong nature of Fontana's message, it is effectively delivered.

Whispers of Madmen is a hard cover book of about 76 pages. As a collaborate effort, it has certain Romantic elements in common with Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and Wordsworth in the 18th century. There are few wasted words in Whispers Of Madmen and most of them are forgivable.

Order your copy of

Whispers Of Madmen
by Matt Fontana And R.G. Bell


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