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
And what music would her son, this “muted-coronet”, play? Foust answers with stinging
they Foust’s son suffers a form of autism that is characterized by both intellectual brilliance
taught you to sit
on the rug,
you in the art
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?
but he never asked for
mark of blood
on his door,
of fire; he never
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
Reviewed by M.B. McLatchey, April, 2010.
Excerpted from The Spoon River Poetry Review, Summer/Fall 2010.
Review by M. B. McLatchey
Author: Rebecca Foust
Winner, Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize, 2007
Texas Review Press
36 pages; paper, $8.95