Though not a formal poet in the customary sense of the label, Emily Dickinson saw a
correlation between poetic technique and emotional honesty .  After reading Rebecca Foust's
masterfully executed and  heart-rending chapbook,
Dark Card, one would have to conclude
that this is Foust’s poetic as well.  

For Foust , the power of poetry rests not in its effusiveness but in its exactness.  What this
means for her poems is what it meant for Dickinson’s poems:  a prosody of paring down
language, meter, and rhythm until she achieves a spareness and a pulse that is very much
her own.  Not a sonnet or sestina to be found in this debut collection; yet, in verse lines that
remind us of Dickinson’s compression chamber of sounds, Foust chronicles with searing
insight the heart ache in raising a son with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Witness her poem,
“Instrument” about the failure of a school system to provide a venue for her autistic son’s  
growth:

    That
    bewildered
    look in
    your eyes,

    the hours
    spent liberating
    School Project
    Butterflies,

    your
    baffled, raging,
    muted-coronet
    pain

 And what music would her son, this “muted-coronet”, play? Foust answers with stinging
steadiness:

    they
    taught you to sit

    on the rug,
    dumbed
    your shout-singing
    tongue,

    instructed
    you in the art
    of staying
    unstrung.

       Foust’s son suffers a form of autism that is characterized by both intellectual brilliance
and social awkwardness or difference from his peers.  “Yes, he’s different,” Foust proclaims
in the book’s title poem,  “all kids are different, him/just a little bit more .”  A  central question
that these poems ask again and again is whether or not
being different need necessarily
earn one the label of
being disabled.  “It’s hard/to know what to do,” a crestfallen voice
wonders aloud in another poem, “whether to try to make true/what may not be awry – is it
disability/or just the difference in intensity/that makes turquoise not quite blue?”  Only a child’
s advocate poses these kinds of questions:
 Is it my child – or is it the system – that is the
problem?
 Or, as in a later poem, how will my child thrive in a culture where being “gifted”
turns out to be the same as being cursed?

    He’s gifted
    but  he never asked for
    that special
    mark of blood
    on his door,

    that forehead-
    touch-chin flash
    of fire; he never
    invited
    the giver in.

 After a collection of poems in which she has paced in angst for her son’s well-being and in
which she has chastised the social systems that have dismissed her son’s humanity, this
excerpt from her  final poem promotes a compelling alternative perspective.

    The Peripheral Becomes Crucial
    in ways we’d never have guessed, like when
    they unwound the crocodile-mummy shroud
    focusing on what was within,

    casting aside as trash the papyri cartonnage,
    which when kicked, unscrolled to reveal
    what Sappho wrote.

    Sometimes more is inscribed
    in the chemical signature of mud
    than in the Sanskrit writ on the pot.


 As a final piece, this  poem is both antidote and epilogue. As antidote, it neutralizes the
poisonous effects of  labels like “disability” and “difference”.  The poem retrieves for us that
which we have cast away as “trash”  and encourages us to look again; reassess its value.
Our finding is that what we have discarded as having no intrinsic value is in fact the artifact
itself.  In summoning us to shift our way of seeing toward the “peripheral” , the poem asks us
to receive into our lives the very things and human beings that we customarily marginalize.  
Rather than simply sounding the call for inclusion-for-inclusion’s-sake, this is a call for
enriching our lives:  “Sometimes more is inscribed/ in the chemical signature of mud/than in
the Sanskrit writ on the pot.”  For the standard bearers of our time, the poem holds out an
ethical as well as an aesthetic question: why do we view the finished pot as separate from
its clay matter?  In other words, how do we justify our hierarchies for what is good and
beautiful?  As epilogue to the book, it functions like the best of poems that expose an errant
morality, while withholding the moralizing. In short, it offers us a coda to live by.  Whether or
not we have the moral fortitude to accept this coda is unclear.  What is indisputable is that,
for its technical achievement as well as for its social significance, this is a stunning and
important book.


Reviewed by M.B. McLatchey,  April, 2010.
Excerpted from
The Spoon River Poetry Review, Summer/Fall 2010.
Dark Card

Review by M. B. McLatchey

Author: Rebecca Foust
Winner, Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize, 2007
Texas Review Press
2008
36 pages; paper, $8.95
Literary Reviews