The short-lined free verse lyric, as pioneered in the 20th century by such folks as Zukofsky, Williams, Robert Creeley, AR Ammons, Cid Corman, Frank Samperi, etc., runs its own set of risks & offers its own rewards. Both risks & rewards are on display in Graham Foust's first full-length collection.
By "short-lined lyric," of course, I mean something distinct from a merely short line, which can serve as the formal basis for much longer works (LZ's "A"-19, for instance, or Samperi's or Ammons's various long poems): I mean a brief poem, rarely two full pages, in which the lines tend to hover around a 4-word average, in which the proportion of blank space to printed paper is at times overwhelming. Mallarmé's Un coup de dés was the 1st great verbal exploration the aesthetics of the isolated mark against the void of the blank page, but the weight of silence or nullity has long been an obsession of contemporary arts – think Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, Brian Eno's Music for Airports, & any number of 20th-century visual artists.
The most obvious effect of writing poems that are shards of language marooned in a sea of white paper – or scattered stars shining out of an otherwise empty sky, choose your metaphor – is that an almost unbearable weight is placed upon what few words do appear. At least this is the case in Foust's poems, which almost never have the insouciant, tossed-off quality of so many of Creeley's short lyrics. They're composed, sometimes almost painfully so.
More often than not, the poems work. Foust has a very good ear, and as importantly a strong – tho not unerring – sense for the off-balance, the off-kilter & incomplete that saves them from becoming Bronkian reports on reality or Cormanesque cuff-jottings. I sense that Celan is a tempting model for Foust, as well – Celan, the singular master who's led so many young American poets into dead-ends of laconic portentousness – but Foust has a wonderfully light touch that enable him to nod to the German poet without falling into his gravitational black hole. As in Every Deafness – dark poems, but with a wry, slanted darkness that makes the reader smile uneasily, lines stuck in her or his head.