Necessary Stranger, Graham Foust (Flood Editions, 2007)
My last Foust post got pilloried in ways that I didn’t really have the energy to respond to, except to say that all I meant to imply by name-dropping all those “short-line short-poem” poets along with Foust was that (as I said) the form bears specific dangers & possible rewards, which can fall under various epithets: the “gnomic,” the “epitaphic,” “brevity as the soul of wit” – or the “portentous,” the “squib” – and so forth. When you put a small thing – a set of words, a splotch of color, a cluster of tones – in the midst of a big stretch of nothing – white paper, blank canvas, silence – you automatically place a heavy weight of readerly / viewerly / auditorial attention on that something. The poetics of the haiku, or of nouvelle cuisine.
Problem I’ve always had with writing about poetry is that I tend to want to describe what’s new to me in terms of what’s familiar. And since I was trained as a formalist, I tend to think in terms of the gross physical forms of poems. Don’t mean to imply that Foust’s short-lined, short lyrics are equal to (or better than, or not as good as) Creeley’s or Ammons's or whoever’s – that needs to be settled on a poem-by-poem, collection-by-collection basis – if indeed one wants to spend the energy “settling” it. But the problem (or tactic) of semantic isolation & the concomitant semantic weight placed on the poem is common to everyone I named, however awkwardly or gracefully they negotiate it.
I like the poems of Necessary Stranger, Foust’s 3rd collection, a trifle better than As in Every Deafness. If anything, they’re a bit more mannered than the earlier book – still given to terms of really unexpected weirdness, but with a few elements I didn’t detect in the 1st outing. For one thing, there’s a lot more open intertextuality of the “high culture” sort, hat-tipping to other, earlier poems (mostly, unsurprisingly, in a subversive manner). And then there’s a new sort of minimalist groove going on – minimalist in the repetitive, Steve Reichian sense – the repetition of phrases & words within individual poems. All this, plus a kind of general broadening of Foust’s scope & language in general, shows that he’s not a poet who’s standing still.
(“Critical equipoise”?!? I know what you mean, Curtis – I call it my “bullshit hat” – but I have enough trouble piggybacking my 4 year old without toppling over to worry about “critical equipoise.”)