Extravagant Rescues: Poems by Brett Foster (Northwestern University Press, 2019).
First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, Brett Foster was my classmate in the Graduate Creative Writing program at Boston University. In 2015, Brett died from cancer at the age of 42, which means that he was 22 when we first met, and a golden boy at that: he would go on to receive the Stegner, earn a PhD from Yale, and publish a first book (The Garbage Eaters, Northwestern University Press, 2011). In 1995 he was already a translator, bringing the poems of Miklos Radnoti into English, as well as his original poetry. I couldn’t quote one of Brett’s early poem drafts from those workshop days now, but I could characterize them: sweetly funny; faithful in an earnest, open way; witty; kind; possessed of deep composure and learning. I remember this not just because I genuinely liked him and his poems, but also because at one point we (the poetry grad students at BU) took turns writing as if we were the other person, trying to capture the essence of each others’ voices. I don’t remember writing a Brett poem, but I do remember wanting to draw as much as I could from him and his skillful manipulation of language in the brief year we spent writing and learning together.
While I was only somewhat aware of the breadth and polish of his work as he moved on through the Stegner Fellowship to an associate professorship at Wheaton College, it does not surprise me to find the self-assuredly prophetic and simultaneously amused voice of the poems in his posthumous volume, Extravagant Rescues (Northwestern University Press). This volume, almost finished at his death and carefully tended by his close friend and fellow poet Jeffrey Galbraith, if it has to represent Brett’s final words, fully showcases and satisfies the reader with its range and joyous love of language. I hear him most clearly in the engaging shout-out sonnet, “No, You Misheard,” here in full:
I’m sorry that you thought I had said this was exciting.
Instead what I said in actuality was this—I’m exiting
now, disembarking from this entire scene between us
for some happily unknown as of yet port, under Venus
still if considerably distant from the many errands
we’ve been running. I’m happy too that it still stands
for something—that curvy, glittery star—ever the patron
overlooking lovers and their wandering barks and so on.
Now wait just a minute, I resent your calling me a coward,
resent it very much, although, yes, it’s true, being a cowherd
remains my primary line of work, main source of my income.
So sorry we’ve come to cross-purposes, but better days are
Of this, let us be mindful, and let us charitably sweep
our many minefields, which each prepared as the other slept.