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About this poet

Born on October 17, 1942, in Houston, Texas, the son of a lathe operator, Bertram Harry Fairchild Jr. grew up in Houston and small towns in Oklahoma, west Texas, and southwest Kansas. He earned his BA and MA at the University of Kansas and his PhD at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

Fairchild has authored six books of poetry, including The Blue Buick: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); Usher (W. W. Norton, 2009); Local Knowledge (W. W. Norton, 2005); Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (W. W. Norton, 2003), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the California Book Award, and the Library of Congress’s Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; and The Art of the Lathe (Alice James Books, 1998), winner of the California Book Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Texas Institute of Letters’ Natalie Ornish Award, the PEN West Poetry Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award. He is also the author of the critical work Such Holy Song: Music as Idea, Form, and Image in the Poetry of William Blake (Kent State University Press, 1980).

Fairchild’s poems build their homes in the same quaint, small towns where Fairchild grew up and focus on the small moments of beauty, grace, and isolation that can be found in rural, working-class Midwestern life. In his review of The Blue Buick: New and Selected Poems, Mark Jarman writes, “[Fairchild’s] unique power is in leading his dead from the field of personal memory and into the living history of the poem. We have had poets like this—Randall Jarrell, James Wright, Richard Hugo—inheritors of the legacy of Robert Frost. At this time, B. H. Fairchild stands almost alone in this tradition. We are lucky to have him.”

Fairchild’s honors include the Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry from the Sewanee Review, the Arthur Rense Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Prairie Schooner’s Edward Stanley Award, and the Guy Owens Award from Southern Poetry Review, as well as fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has taught at a number of institutions, including California State University, San Bernardino; Claremont Graduate University; Seattle Pacific University; Texas Christian University; and Warren Wilson College. He currently teaches in the creative writing PhD program at the University of North Texas.


Selected Bibliography

The Blue Buick: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014)
Usher (W. W. Norton, 2009)
Local Knowledge (W. W. Norton, 2005)
Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (W. W. Norton, 2003)
The Art of the Lathe (Alice James Books, 1998)
The Arrival of the Future (Swallow’s Tale Press, 1985)

On the Waterfront

B. H. Fairchild, 1942

—know thyself

Flashlight in hand, I stand just inside the door
in my starched white shirt, red jacket nailed shut
by six gold buttons, and a plastic black bowtie,
a sort of smaller movie screen reflecting back
the larger one. Is that really you? says Mrs. Pierce,
my Latin teacher, as I lead her to her seat
between the Neiderlands, our neighbors, and Mickey Breen,
who owns the liquor store.  Walking back, I see
their faces bright and childlike in the mirrored glare
of a tragic winter New York sky.  I know them all,
these small-town worried faces, these natives of the known,
the real, a highway and brown fields, and New York
is a foreign land—the waterfront, unions, priests,
the tugboat's moan—exotic as Siam or Casablanca.
I have seen this movie seven times, memorized the lines:
Edie, raised by nuns, pleading—praying, really—
Isn't everyone a part of everybody else?
and Terry, angry, stunned with guilt, Quit worrying
about the truth.  Worry about yourself, while I,
in this one-movie Kansas town where everyone
is a part of everybody else, am waiting darkly
for a self to worry over, a name, a place,
New York, on 52nd Street between the Five Spot
and Jimmy Ryan's where bebop and blue neon lights
would fill my room and I would wear a porkpie hat
and play tenor saxophone like Lester Young, but now,
however, I am lost, and Edie, too, and Charlie,
Father Barry, Pop, even Terry because he worried
more about the truth than he did about himself,
and I scan the little mounds of bodies now lost even
to themselves as the movie rushes to its end,
car lights winging down an alley, quick shadows
fluttering across this East River of familiar faces
like storm clouds cluttering a wheat field or geese
in autumn plowing through the sun, that honking,
that moan of a boat in fog.  I walk outside
to cop a smoke, I could have been a contender, 
I could have been somebody instead of who I am,
and look across the street at the Army-Navy store
where we would try on gas masks, and Elmer Fox
would let us hold the Purple Hearts, but it's over now,
and they are leaving, Goodnight, Mr. Neiderland,
Goodnight, Mrs. Neiderland, Goodnight, Mick, Goodnight,
Mrs. Pierce, as she, a woman who has lived alone
for forty years and for two of those has suffered through
my botched translations from the Latin tongue, smiles,
Nosce te ipsum, and I have no idea what she means.

"On the Waterfront", from Usher by B. H. Fairchild. Copyright © 2009 by B. H. Fairchild. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

"On the Waterfront", from Usher by B. H. Fairchild. Copyright © 2009 by B. H. Fairchild. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

B. H. Fairchild

B. H. Fairchild

Born on October 17, 1942, in Houston, Texas, the son of a lathe operator, Bertram Harry Fairchild Jr. grew up in Houston and small towns in Oklahoma, west Texas, and southwest Kansas. He earned his BA and MA at the University of Kansas and his PhD at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.