By Rebecca Foust
Press 53. 94 pp. $14.95
The title poem comes first in this collection - winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry - and it signals that the locale is Marin County, Calif., crowned by Mount Tamalpais, graced by Phoenix Lake. This is upscale territory.
Pilgrim, the protagonist of these sonnets, doesn't feel at home there, if only because she started out elsewhere and otherwise. In "Prime Mover," we learn that "In Pilgrim's childhood home, the prime mover / was not having enough to pay the bills. . . . Dad died / in IRS hock; Mom's heir was Goodwill."
Author Rebecca Foust will be a poet in residence at the West Chester University Poetry Conference in the spring. In notes at the end of the book, Pilgrim is connected to the New England colonial poet Ann Bradstreet. But if you don't know that, it is John Bunyan's Pilgrim you will likely think of. There's even a sequence featuring the seven deadly sins.
The pilgrimage recorded here is antiphonal: Fashionable milieu meets examination of conscience. "Oops" lays it out nicely:
Even if those shoes - sorry, those Manolo
stilettos - did cost twice the ticket
for this charity ball, still, Pilgrim gets it:
It was in bad taste to say so,
and to say it so loudly, in that shard
of silence after the nondenominational grace . . ..
. . . It just went south
from there. Thinking, meanwhile, about Darfur
and God, all that food. And the mines so near.
Pilgrim gives her take on contemporary dog culture in "We Dogs":
We dogs have it pretty good around here.
No leash law, for starters. We run free
in these parts. There's a huge town green
with poop bags on posts. Not that I care,
but She sure seems to.
Pilgrim is intent on getting somewhere that she knows is not someplace else, but a way of being otherwise, a realization limned in "The Quest":
. . . No longer
not-seeing suffering, not for
the thank-God-it's-not-me effect of, more
like bearing witness. Maybe the chance
to do an angstrom of good . . ..
These poems, so rich in meaning and nuance, cry out to be read and reread. The counterpoint of authentic sentiment and a kind of Augustan wit in Foust's poetry - think Pope and Dryden, but also Juvenal - is quite original, bringing a new, distinctly poetic sense to Aristotle's observation that people are by nature social animals.
Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog, Books, Inq. - The Epilogue. E-mail him at PresterFrank@gmail.com.