By Nikki Dudley
Published: Beir Bua Press 2021
Review by Anne Daly
Fanny B. Mine is a rollicking read. It is a thrilling visual and poetic feast that takes the John Keats/Fanny Brawne love story and gives it a refreshing 21st century shake-up. The heaving corsets and frilly shirts of high romanticism are replaced by dating apps and support groups in what becomes a moving and probably more realistic exploration of the ill-starred relationship, than most.
By peeling back the myth, Dudley gives us a glimpse of the grey areas, the multiple aspects involved in the coming together of two different people. There is humour, pathos and menace here. Being the love of a dying poet is not easy. Keats is a dubious lover, he is egocentric and obsessional, he is jealous of Fanny, her freedom and her health. Fanny, in turn, is flighty and inconstant, reluctant to surrender to the intensity of his obsession.
There is a lyricism and flow to the whole collection that puts a spotlight on the ephemera of life. It shows in the choice of language, especially the language of the dying body. It is cleverly done, as the reader knows what happened, how young Keats was when he died and this adds to the pathos, the catch at the heartedness of the broken, fragmented thoughts that swirl on the page. The words are scratched with the fury of someone who knows they are going to die. This is particularly evident in Calendar of a Dying Man in all its parts which achingly depicts the struggling heart, the gasping lungs, the monstrosity of fate.
It is a collection by someone who loves the source material and treats it with respect but cleverly and imaginatively turns it on its head. The experimentalism of the language and form (I especially enjoyed the erasure poem using Ode to a Grecian Urn) is unexpected and often humorous. There are clever plays on the meaning of the name Fanny and the idea of being part of a groupchat called Romantics Anonymous.
This collection grabs attention and takes us along on a wonderful journey. Although you might come away from it with the feeling that Keats is someone you would want to swipe left on if the situation ever arose!
You can order a copy of ‘Fanny B Mine’ from the Beir Bua Press website here.