NECESSARY STRANGER by GRAHAM FOUSTANDREA BAKER Reviews
Necessary Stranger by Graham Foust
(Flood Editions, 2006)
I. Sneaky Goodness that Works When it Shouldn’t
Necessary Stranger is a book to judge by its cover. Meaning, before you even notice quite what it’s doing, what it’s doing will be bringing you a smile. It’s very fast like that. Its vision happens to you even before you notice that it’s agile and spry, but not right with the world.
It has a plan though and it’s stated right up front. The first poem begins, “Look at the sky, go/ back inside.” The plan is, look broad, but go back to the small. Or, make small from the large, reducing to microcosms.
This is that first poem in its entirety:
Look at the sky, go
back inside. Cocaine
makes its way to Wisconsin.
The TV’s thick with burial, hilarious
with seed. And while the moon,
my mind, and the real world stay home,
I will walk walk
walk unkilled around
a new year’s clumsy gallows.
Anything’s impossible. I’m not
you. Here’s to music
to be in the movies to.
Plain language is used plainly. Faux-innocence (“I will walk walk/ walk”) doesn’t deceive, but winks like a man pulling a quarter from behind a child’s ear. And playfulness is mirrored by odd negations (“Anything’s impossible.”) Contradiction is part of the fun and games, but also something to keep a leery eye on.
The poems here are often wry and occasionally, even vaguely collegiate. Take this stanza excerpted from the poem “Panama”:
If only I couldn’t
understand, I’d imagine
some sarcastic new Christ and say
something someone would say
The phrase, “sarcastic new Christ,” is on the verge of staking too easy of a rebellion and the idea of, “say[ing]/ something someone would say” is a tad on the familiar-cleaver side, but both phrases, even placed next to one another, work in this poems because they are redeemed by the desperate tone of surrounding negations:
In the trash-
I want something to not
do with my hands.
In poetry, I’ll always cheer for things that work when it seems they ought not. That success alone makes this book well worth reading.
II. Oh, but there’s more!
I certainly can’t neglect to mention the force with which Necessary Stranger locates itself in the Right Now of Poetry and the Right Now of America, which are both places where, of course, “my neighbors cough and/ wave and wave and frown” and, “It’s a/ dream I’m not ashamed.” (Oh! Just look at those line breaks! Meaning doubles when it’s maimed.)
“Barest Gist” is one of the most successful poems in the book. Here it is in its entirety:
The way the days gray
over is almost
we believable slaves
I move around
There are acres ever through me
I can’t explicate this poem, or don’t want to. I love its nimbleness, other than that I just want to rest in its wow. This is how I like my poems; I want them to happen TO me when I read. This book delivers. And it’s fun. There are scads of choice lines like, “A brawl/ of water, the sea/ is not radiant,” in which I don’t receive new information, but I do get to think, yes, yes, radiant things are deigned their radiance in American spiritual frustration. And no, “It doesn’t seem/ to want to rain.” This book lives exactly where I live. I don’t mean that it’s trendy; I mean that it’s true.
In a poem entitled “Google,” “The sky goes/ every way.” Here I say, yes, google is some new perversion of the unbound sky. And in the poem, “Historyless”:
Go ahead and feed me that hole.
The only thing I know to say is that, yes, many people I know feel this way. Do “Go ahead and feed me that hole,” which must be some sort of homeopathic cure for the larger emptiness because I suddenly feel a temporary lifting of the weight of it all when those words arrive so exactly as they’re needed, each one stacked carefully and precariously on top of the other.
In, “Poem with Hands and Tools” Faust writes, “ The loud/ pain makes her/ my necessary stranger.” The loud angst of this book will make it yours.
Andrea Baker was the recipient of the 2004 Slope Editions Book Prize for her first book, like wind loves a window. She is also the author of the chapbooks gilda (Poetry Society of America, 2004) and gather (moneyshot editions, 2006). She maintains a blog at andreabaker.blogspot.com.