Son of the literary world's best-kept secret, John Fante, Dan spent nearly two decades getting drunk and high while the itch to write festered in the back of his inebriated mind. Since sobriety entered his life in 1986, the now-64-year-old Los Angeles native has published three novels, one play, a short-story collection and two books of poetry, the latest being Kissed By a Fat Waitress.
Unlike musicians or actors, Fante exemplifies the old adage that writers improve as they age. The poem "2-15-07" finds the author in a reflective moment, thankful he found his muse, when he writes, "and the first forty-five of those years were spent tussling within myself ... Until I began / to / write / and the world turned / from shit brown to pink cotton candy."
Fante uses a style championed by Knut Hamsun, Charles Bukowski, Hubert Selby Jr. and his father to recount gritty tales of drug and alcohol abuse, dating every sort of woman except the good kind, motel living, the emotional pains of rehab and turbulent family relationships. It's a life the writer knows well and incorporates into his work.
John Fante was a novelist-turned-screenwriter who played golf and drank to kill the feeling that he sold himself out for Hollywood, a sentiment the younger Fante alludes to often. It wasn't until Bukowski claimed John Fante as his god that the elder Fante found notoriety. His father's battle for recognition and the attention he continues to receive two decades after his death is addressed in the poem "here ya go Pop--this one's for you." The work explains how even Dan had doubts about his father's legacy until his old man gave him a just-completed copy of the novel 1933 Was a Bad Year. Dan Fante writes about the rush of positive emotion he received from a John Fante fan letter by saying, "And John Fante was a nobody--an aging diabetic has-been busted out--out-of-print--second string Hollywood screenwriter/killing time in the social security line ... juss read it for chrissakes-- / So I did--I spent the day in the shade of his back patio--sipping rose wine and smoking Lucky cigarettes and flipping those sacred pages / and coming away / stunned / having nearly forgotten / that my father was precisely who he said he was / a master at words--a prince on paper."
Kissed is Fante's second book of poetry, the first being A Gin-Pissing- Raw-Meat- Dual-Carburetor-V8- Son-of-a-Bitch From Los Angeles. That collection was written more than 20 years ago, while the majority of Fante's latest were penned between 2002 and 2006. Although much of his current material reads like a man with the perspective of time on his side, Fante's poems still hit readers like a jab to the teeth with a simplified narrative that breaks free from the hyperbolic drivel 10th-grade English teachers shove down the throats of inattentive students who would welcome rebellious poetry if exposed to it.
Unfortunately, Fante is hardly a household name in the States, although European audiences welcome him like the literary master that he is. The topic arises many times, first in the poem "springtime for Fante," when he writes about an 8-page Los Angeles Times feature about him by saying, "Me / who has sold a grand total of six thousand books / in America over the last fifteen years ... I mean, why not / I'm not dead yet-- / or in jail."
Positivity is the recent addition to Fante's bag of source material, as many poems detail the overwhelming joy he receives from a happy marriage and his young son. This topic is written about in no less than five poems, but is best explained in "Giovanni at two," in which Fante writes "at peace most days / present for the parade / and for a life / full of brand new colors / Jesus / what an honor / One last chance / not / to / screw / things / up." Another frequent subject is Fante's move to Arizona, which is laid to paper with an open, airy quality linked to the state's majestic evening scenery. The piece "summer sky" details this best in the two opening stanzas, "Sedona / is / a / star-gazers / black / planetarium at night / I find (and soften) my heart / every time / I stare deep / within the sky's blanket of beauty."
Kissed is brutally honest, stripped of pretension and presented in a no-frills manner. You know, the way poetry should be, but rarely is.