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Alexis Rhone Fancher: California Poets Part 3, Four Poems

Alexis Rhone Fancher (photo by Baez Here)

June 25th, 2021

California Poets: Part III

Alexis Rhone Fancher

Four Poems

Sous Chef When my lover is hungry, I put him to work. Chop the onion, I tell him while I butterfly the lamb. Medium chop, I answer before he can ask. He does best under close supervision, sous chef as high as he’ll ever rise. I give him the jobs he can’t screw up: scrub vegetables, slice carrots, to a bush of tarragon-- a rough chiffonade. Asked to defrost a bag of shrimp in cold water, he drops each one into the half-filled sink to be discovered later-- bloated, inedible. Did anyone tell you to open the bag? I ask, tossing dinner down the disposal. He shakes his head, lowers his delectable gaze and I want to nibble his lower lip, lick away each bead of briny regret. Let’s make something else I whisper, taking his hand, the knife he's got poised to peel and mince garlic. After all, we've both learned the difference between a head and a clove, cannellini and cannoli, a fling versus true love.  

Demented We lunch the first Tuesday of each month at the same sushi bar downtown. When are we meeting? The famous poet won’t get off the phone. Give me the address. I repeat it again. And again. Write it down! I beg. No, he says. Those days are over. He confesses he’s not writing anymore. I’m all tied up with doctors, he says. They got me off the booze. I mean, why get out of bed? My 2-pack-a-day habit? Quitting didn’t help. Listen to me wheeze! He takes a breath. Exhales. I hear the rattle. These days all he does is complain. A far cry from the hot hunk he’d once been. Last month you looked great, I lie. But the famous poet doesn’t believe me. When I walk, he says, my knees are bone on bone. They’ve got me using a cane! So not sexy anymore. It’s payback, he rues. Too much carousing, all those worshipful women — A connoisseur of sloe-eyed broads. That’s me. What did I expect, fucking everything that walked for 50 years? Except you, he laughs. You’re the one that got away! Even now, he can’t stop flirting. I almost feel sorry for him.

Surfer Boy (Co-written with California poet Dion O’Reilly) He taught me to eat raw fish, to mix wasabi and soy sauce into a thick green slurry, use ivory chopsticks to dip the sushi without severing it from its rice bed. Clumsy at first, soon we were feeding each other morsels of mackerel, a bite of raw shrimp, salmon sashimi, slippery on the tongue. Easy then to slip into his bed, already besotted with things raw and delicious. Those were the days I was free for the taking, men schooling around, and me, the wide open sea. He began at my feet, told me not to look at him; I stared at the mirror on his closet door, watched his reflection devour me like bait. You have a beautiful cliTORis, he marveled. It’s pronounced CLItoris, I said. There was a wetsuit in the closet. A surfboard rested next to the bed. On the wall, pages torn from Surfer Magazine — mammoth, lapis lazuli waves dwarfed lone surfers as they shot the curl. A metaphor. We drank a bottle of saki, and then another. He showed me the St. Christopher medal around his neck. He was named for that patron saint of wanderers, but he stayed put until Novem-ber, when the surf turned cold and the money ran out. Christopher sold off his stuff for traveling cash; dishes, linens, the radio. I like to travel light, he said. A few nights before Chris left for Maui’s Banzai pipeline, we spent my last fifty on tequila and limes, invited a few of his surfer buds for a final aloha. Before the night ended I went down on one of them while Chris watched. All of us, bombed out of our minds. That guy kept calling, telling me how hot I was and how he wanted to “return the favor.” Just drop me off here, Chris said when I pulled up at the Hawaiian Airlines terminal at LAX. He removed the long, silver chain with the St. Christopher medal from his neck, placed it over my head. Hey, he said, his lips brushing mine. It’s been real. .  

Babylon Jean Harlow used her breasts the way men would use a gun. — Graham Greene I’m thumbing through that book again. The naughty one about Old Hollywood, pre-Hays code. I’m lusting over photos of half-clothed vixens of the silver screen, smeared lipstick, bedroom eyes. Crawford, Lombard, Stanwyck. My favorite? Harlow sultry and half-naked in a white satin slip, strap falling over one shoulder. Men like me because I don’t wear a brassiere, she deadpanned. Women like me because I don’t look like a girl who would steal a husband. At least not for long. I like that, the take. And give back. I read she’d ice her nipples before a scene, for just the right effect. Whatever that was. I was twelve when the torrid tell-all, Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, fell into my eager lap. That’s me, in the full-length, practicing my best Harlow pout, left leg jutting out from under my mother’s best negligee, prepubescent breasts poking through the silk. I’d spend my weekends watching old B & W movies on TV, mimicking Harlow’s strut and sass. That’s me, icing my tiny titties like I knew what I was doing, channeling my inner siren, cracking wise in Harlow’s brassy, New Yorkese in Baby Face, perfecting my left hook, in Bomb Shell. I wanted to emerge from my skinny, tomboy purgatory, peroxide my hair, blossom into a bosomy blonde temptress, a goddess who held the key to every man’s fantasies; a woman who knew the ropes.

Interview II

Self-Portrait (Alexis Rhone Fancher)

December 17th, 2023

California Poets Interview Series:

Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poet and Photographer

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: A lot has happened since your last interview on October 26th, 2021. You’ve just released a new book called Triggered, with paintings by Kenna Barradell. The title packs a punch and the paintings are risqué—all in the best sense. Tell us a bit more about the creative process: How did collaborating with a visual artist shape the poems? How did you come to discover the paintings? How were the pieces chosen?

ARF: Kenna Barradell and I have been internet friends for years. We’re two creatives who found our way to one another. I was/am impressed by her remarkable canvases, so lush and sensual! She paints large-format acrylics. Usually figurative.


Here’s her website:


Kenna created the cover art for Triggered before the idea for the book was born. She sent me All Poets Are Naked on a whim. The painting made me laugh and, I admit, aroused me as well. I wrote back to her: “How did you know what my vagina looks like?” We discovered we each had a similar aesthetic, a flare for the dramatic, and a rather lurid sense of humor. When I decided to write Triggered, many of the poems called out for more than words. I immediately thought of Kenna, and asked her if she would be interested in creating art for my book.


The third member of our ménage is editor/publisher extraordinaire, Clare MacQueen, whose great eye and thoughtful editing elevated the book. Triggered is my fourth collaboration with Clare. She also published State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies in 2015, Enter Here in 2017, and The Dead Kid Poems in 2019. Clare embodies everything I look for in a publisher: smart, savvy, and a brilliant editor, as well. She always makes my work better. When we merged with Kenna, the three of us came together to create something beautiful, instructive, and seriously brazen.

DG: In 2022, you published Stiletto Killer with Edizone Italia. It’s a powerful work which includes pieces from your first five collections—fully candid and uncompromisingly honest. Los Angeles, along with its many vices, is the central theme of the project. Yet the collection is about triumph through writing. Though LA retains primacy, the overarching title comes from a poem dealing with an event that happened in Texas. There’s so much vivid, rich detail here. Can you tell our readers how it all came together, along with the presentation of the book for John Cabot University in Rome.

ARF: Stiletto Killer, published in 2018, is a project created by Edizione Italia, a stellar group of women translators in Rome. I’m fast internet friends with Alessandra Bava. She and fellow-translator, Adelaide Basile, who is now a good internet friend as well, approached me about publishing a new book of my poems culled from several of my booksto be printed in English and Italian. They would go on to choose the poems and title the collection. I was thrilled, even more so when I learned the series of woman poets I’d be a part of included Diane Seuss, Joy Harjo, Natalie Diaz, Mahogany L. Browne, Wendy Xu, Patricia Smith, Nikky Finney, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Francesca Bell, Maggie Smith, and my good friend Jennifer Givhan. We all appeared in Edizione Italia’s An Anthology of Contemporary American Women Poets (Ensemble, 2018), as well as each having our own collection. At the time of publication, a reading was in the works at John Cabot University in Rome. I had longed to join it, but Covid trashed that plan.

DG: You’ve left your native LA for the Mojave Desert. When did you realize that a change of scenery was necessary?

ARF: My husband, Fancher, and I left our beloved Los Angeles last June. After moving from the beach, to DTLA, to the Pedro bluffs, we wanted a place to land and settle. Fancher loves the desert. Me? I had to learn to love it. I’m a city girl. Triggered is the first book I wrote and completed since we moved. It has both brand new work and a few pieces which were first in earlier books. It’s my response to “trigger warnings”—like women are some delicate flower who have to be warned … sigh. 

The desert has many surprises in store, including some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I have ever witnessed. Here are a few of them, shot with my iPhone 15 Pro Max.

DG: To what extent do you think the new environment will affect what you write? Do you foresee a drastic change in the themes, topics, and forms you choose, or do you see writing as mostly a product of what comes from within?

ARF: My work is always influenced by my location. And Los Angeles is often a character in my work, as well. I’ve lived all over L.A., and I’ve seen a noticeable difference between work written when we lived at the beach or on the bluffs of San Pedro, 10 miles south of the city. DTLA found us living in an eighth-floor, 3,000-square-foot loft space, surrounded by hi-rise buildings, the barrage of city life and that steady cacophony of buses, cars, pedestrians, and commerce. My writing during the years I lived downtown was faster paced; terse. It echoed the staccato of the city. I have a feeling that the desert will work its magic on me, like it or not.

DG: You’ve released a wonderful collection with Cynthia Atkins called Duets. Photographs also feature in the project and serve as the inspiration for the poems. Poets rarely collaborate, and if they do it’s not usually with other poets. Can you talk about the writing process? How often did you speak? To what extent did you edit each other’s work? Any creative disagreements on lines or photos? All that good stuff. We want to know it.

ARF: One of the few books I’ve written that doesn’t take place at a specific location is Duets. It was co-written with my good friend/editing/writing partner, Cynthia Atkins. We’ve been writing together once a week for several years, believing that this mutual sharing and editing resulted in better work. Each week we’d write to a painting or photo I’d chosen at random. Months into this ongoing exchange (by phone and email), we realized we had a book. The thought of tracking down the rights to all the photos and paintings we’d used for inspiration was daunting, and sure to be expensive. “You’re a photographer,” Cynthia said. “Let’s write to your photos!” Less than a year later we landed a contract with the lovely Small Harbor Press, helmed by the terrific Allison Blevins. She helped us to create a truly beautiful book.


DG: In our first interview, you spoke about photography, along with the difference between shooting actors and poets. Given that you’re working on a new project—a coffee table book of photos featuring Southern California poets—I want to continue this discussion. As you’ve said, no two subjects are the same, but can you talk a bit more about your approach when it comes to capturing specifically the personality of poets? And what about the book itself?

ARF: The coffee table book was shot over a 12-year period. I’m lucky to photograph many of the best poets in studio and on the street. Old. Young. Living. Dead. When I photograph people I submit to their rhythm, get into their beat; I want to see them as they see themselves. It is a time to connect deeply with a fellow poet/artist/human being. I want to show each poet’s inner self, that special spark that displays their talent, and uniqueness; capture what makes them who they are. I like to think that shooting portraits of people who interest me is my best and truest work. It’s certainly what gives me most pleasure. But back to the next book. It will feature approximately 100 poets, accompanied by one of their poems. It will be published by the terrific Moon Tide Press. I’m working closely with publisher Eric Morago, whom I’ve worked with before on several projects, including one from my favorite of my collections, Junkie Wife (2018).


Regarding shooting portraits: Fancher, my very observant spouse, says that my talent as a photographer comes down to one thing: Knowing when to take the photo. He says it’s about timing, sensing the perfect moment just before it happens, clicking the shutter at exactly the right milli-second. Being prescient. You know, knowing something before you know it. Also, I shoot in continuous light, not flash. Which differentiates me from many famous photographers. It relaxes the subject, not having the flash going off, and enables me to see the lighting on the sitter as I’m shooting. If you shoot flash you have to look at the picture. Lose momentum, lose “the” shot.


October 26th, 2021

California Poets Interview Series:

Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poet and Photographer

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: Your work has the quality of being uncompromisingly raw—all in the best sense. Too often, poetry is viewed as a “high art,” when, in fact, it resonates most with people when the words descend to near, if not total deviance. In this respect, when did you decide that you would not only be a poet, but also write the way you really wanted to?

ARF: I came to poetry rather late, after a successful career in advertising. I consider myself to be a “feral” poet, ie: I have no degree in English or literature or poetry (my degree is in Theatre with an emphasis on acting/writing). I have no poetry MFA or PhD. So no preconceived ideas about what poetry “should be.” I did study for 5 years with the great Los Angeles poet, teacher, mentor, Jack Grapes, who taught me to trust my voice and write my truth. It never occurred to me to sensor my words or dumb down my poems. Once a rebel …

DG: It seems counterintuitive, yet individuals censor themselves not out of necessity, but out of fear. What advice would you give emerging writers to help them overcome this impulse?

ARF: I work with emerging writers as an editor, teacher and mentor, as well as running a business, SubmatCentral, that submits poems to literary markets for poets who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t submit their own work. I often encounter nascent poets who, censor themselves on the page, afraid to offend a relative, parent, lover or ex-spouse. I explain that it is highly unlikely that these fearful people will read the poet’s work. I mean, I have a brother whom I adore who has never picked up one of my books or read my work! Poetry does not float his boat. If I were to write about him, he’d never know! If a poet is seriously afraid of their own truth, writing under a pseudonym is always an alternative. But that’s putting the cart before the horse, yes? First write your unvarnished truth. To paraphrase that old saying, “Write like no one is reading.” Then worry afterwards as to how it will be received.

DG: Aside from poetry, you’re also an accomplished street and portrait photographer. Some of the most established names in literature have sought the creative energy of your studio, and your urban photography is equally amazing. In this respect, is there a different psychological and creative approach you adopt when photographing artists, for instance, as opposed to those who aren’t “creative?”

ARF: Thanks for your kind words about my photos. And what an interesting question! I approach all my sitters as “creatives.” That is what I hope to connect with during a shoot. That inner spark that makes each of us unique. Actors are the most outgoing and least self-conscious when posing for my camera. Also musicians. They are used to being onstage, in the spotlight. They come alive when the lights go up in the studio—great fun to shoot, high energy, extroverted. Poets, on the other hand, are all over the map. Some are dramatic, bigger than life, while others are timid and introspective. Hard to get them to open up. My job, as the photographer, is to make the sitter feel at ease and to trust me to discover their inner self. The best compliment I ever received was from a poet who, when she saw her portrait, said: “This looks exactly how I see myself in my mind, on my very best day.” That’s what I work for, whether I’m photographing an architect, bartender, professor, electrician, or a famous actor or writer. Capturing their essence—that’s my goal.

DG: Do you prefer to take pictures of people or landscapes and why?

ARF: People. I’ve been fascinated by faces my entire life. I like to get up close and personal; peer deep inside their psyche—not in some devious, evil way, like that old superstition, that a photographer will “steal your soul.” But with intense curiosity. What makes this person tick, and how can I photograph that? Shooting bucolic landscapes, other than the view from my terrace (of the Port of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean) rarely excites me. I prefer urban jungles, cityscapes, catching the interaction of people and pavement. Whether it’s the well-heeled denizens on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, or the lost souls on Skid Row, even my landscapes are populated.

DG: What are some particularly interesting photoshoots you have fond memories of, and what are some of your favorite locations in LA?

ARF: Most Memorable: Since 2012 I’ve been working on a project dear to my heart, documenting/photographing the poets of Southern California, Los Angeles, in particular. In April of 2015 I had a One Woman Show at Beyond Baroque, in Venice, (California), in honor of Poetry Month, where the first thirty of the poet portraits were viewed for the first time. The opening was a celebration of poetry in Los Angeles, and was followed by a reading of all the photographed poets, depicted below.

(photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher)

Favorite Locations: The 1/2 mile long Fishing Pier in San Pedro off Cabrillo Beach (photo bellow), the Marina, Venice Beach Boardwalk, Downtown Los Angeles. I love taking off for a drive, riding shotgun, going anywhere, my window down and my latest model iPhone (I just upgraded to the new iPhone 13 Pro Max, which has a spectacular camera) poised and ready. It’s like one of Forest Gump’s chocolates, I “never know what I’m going to get.”

(photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher)

DG: Many critics place your work in the confessional category; the label itself, however, looks to be self-defeating and apologetic. The direct, unflinching candor of your style seems, in my opinion, to be the total opposite of what it means to “confess,” in the strictest sense. In other words, the steadfastness of your writing suggests that you don’t possess the guilt which would give rise to the impulse of apologizing for anything, let alone confessing, even if what you’re writing about might be true. Would this be an accurate assessment of your approach, or are you aiming for something different?

ARF: I agree with your assessment of “confessional” poetry, and thank you for your keen understanding of my work. You’re right. I have absolutely no guilt over what I write. I don’t believe in sin, either as a concept, or a condemnation. I am writing my truth. I own my story. It is what it is. I make no judgment, moral or otherwise. I leave that to my readers.

DG: As a poet who writes candidly about erotic themes, would say that words can ever be a bigger turn-on than a sensual photograph, even if photographs are more immediate?

ARF: I’ve read that women are more into the written word, erotically speaking, and that men are more turned on by the visual. Me? I like them both, although a well-told tale gets me hotter than a mere photograph ever could. As a photographer, I’ve been fortunate to pair my photos with my poems in all of my published books. I think of them as co-dependent.

DG: You’re the poetry editor at Cultural Daily, the well-known online platform for independent voices. How does reading submissions inform your own work? In this respect, something which is closer to your aesthetic or radically different material?

ARF: I’m a fool for (really brilliant) poetry! I read voraciously, both print publications and online, always on the lookout for poets who astonish and provoke. I cast a wide net, and I am interested in reading work vastly different from my own as well as poems that share my aesthetic. To that end I don’t have a submission portal via Cultural Daily. Submissions are by invitation only, with the exception of our annual poetry contest, The Jack Grapes Poetry Prize, which runs from July 1st through August 31st each year. This year’s contest received 1,835 poems, sent by well-known poets as well as neophytes. One young poet from Nigeria recently shared that this was his first poem ever written in English! (His poem made it to the semi-final round, ie: the top 10% of submissions!) Quite a feat.

DG: What are you working on at the moment?

ARF: My next, full-length, erotic book, (with photos), BRAZEN, publishes in 2022 by New York Quarterly. Stiletto Killer, a full-length collection (in Italian) by Edizioni Ensemble, Italia, will also be published in 2022. DUETS, a chapbook written with Virginia poet, Cynthia Atkins, featuring ten of my photographs paired with 10 ekphrastic poems each, will be published this summer by Harbor Editions. And a coffee table book, Poets of Los Angeles, with portraits of over 100 poets I’ve shot over the past several years, will be published in 2023 by Moon Tide Press.

Author Bios:

Alexis Rhone Fancher is published in Best American Poetry, Rattle, Hobart, Verse Daily, Plume, Tinderbox, Cleaver, Diode, The American Journal of Poetry, Spillway, Nashville Review, PoetryEast, Gargoyle, and elsewhere. She’s authored ten poetry collections, most recently, TRIGGERED, 2023 (MacQueen’s Publishing); BRAZEN, 2023 (NYQ Books); and DUETS, (2022) an illustrated, ekphrastic chapbook collaboration with poet Cynthia Atkins, published by Harbor Editions. Alexis’s photographs are featured worldwide including the covers of The Pedestal Magazine, Witness, Heyday, and The Mas Tequila Review. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, you can find her at:

Dion O’Reilly’s debut book, Ghost Dogs, was published in February 2020 by Terrapin Books. Her poems appear in Cincinnati Review, Poetry Daily, Narrative, The New Ohio Review, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, Journal of American Poetry, Rattle, The Sun, and other literary journals and anthologies. She is a member of The Hive Poetry Collective, which produces podcasts and radio shows, and she leads online workshops with poets from all over the United States and Canada.


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