From Nim Chimpsky to George Clooney: Extravagant Rescues: Poems by Brett Foster

Valerie Duff-Strautmann
| Reviews


Brett not only absorbed what our teachers at BU offered in the way of Classic and Renaissance study, and what he had already absorbed from years of reading poetry, he spun his voice into masters’ forms and worked them into his own version of perfection. His personal love of the Renaissance poets is palpable as I type his lines, logical thought moving up and down the spiral staircases of his couplets from one idea to the next. Brett is a master of moving from one association to another (in this way, “No, You Misheard” might be termed a Foster-Donne sonnet—or perhaps a Hopkins-Foster). The solution offered at the end as if an afterthought is pure twenty-first century: “let us be mindful” and let us sweep away “our many minefields.” Rather than maintain his stance, argue his position, Brett is happy to be “disembarking from this entire scene between us.” Running away, toward Venus, becomes a sign of generosity, putting a stop to bad feelings, returning to the work of conflict resolution, even if it’s just in poetry. Only Brett trusts his grounding in the classics and can laugh at the uselessness of poetry enough to state decisively and with pleasure: “yes, it’s true, being a cowherd / remains my primary line of work.”
This sort of fancy footwork, this poetic shadowboxing, is what Brett does best. Through form, in yet another sonnet, he evokes what it was like to move to Brookline, Massachusetts in the mid-nineties (“First Apartment Near St. Mary’s”):


I recollect at last those first few weeks
on Beacon Street: broke newlyweds, we hid
our finite riches in a little room,
a basement studio whose cost seemed gruesome.
Fresh from Corpus Christi, you learned to speak
a northern language, talk of “quarters” wide-
mouthed like a Chowdahead’s wicked idiom.
That strangeness resonates as echoed heirloom.

November then alive with many things,
we bundled up, explored the neighborhood.
The couple at the Busy Bee would bring
their frenzied fighting there, and Chinese food—
just half a block away! Some days we stood
at our door to mark the room’s great reckoning.


Light humor runs through most of his poems to some extent. He can’t seem to help himself, from “Avery Da Vinci,” written to his daughter, to the playfulness of “Alternative Titles for the Book You are Holding in Your Hands” (“Bangers & Mash,” “Jehoshaphat’s Bath Mat,” “Idiot Savant,” “Is It Me, or Does It Smell Like Cat Butt in Here?” to name a few) to the delightfully frantic signs of Nim Chimpsky to the poem titled “George Clooney” (“You gotta have a lot of cojones / to prank George Clooney, to phone him / late at night and say those outrageous things / about his young girlfriend, what’s her name.”). But as much as he looked for the comedy in life, he also spent time experiencing, imprinting the world, in which he could feel impermanence. That, too, was his subject, like any good follower of the metaphysical poets. His “Good Night” begins, “I love you, Love, I usually whispered / as she slept there, soon to rise / in two hours, her back facing me / as I turned off the reading light.” Unable to sleep, in the dark, he looks out the window, on a life he shares with her:


I noticed two plastic white lawn chairs,
solemn and on guard, guarding each side
of the sliding doors of the woodshed,
a hermitage in the tiny lot’s corner.
The pale, glowing chairs became two ghosts,
separate and steadfast, still depressive
even at the height of their afterlives.


Brett is both introspective and speculative as he considers his backyard woodshed, where two nondescript chairs are bequeathed spiritual weight.


Valerie Duff-Strautmann‘s second book of poems will be published by Salmon Poetry in 2021. Poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in POETRY, The Common, and Mom Egg Review; book reviews have appeared in The Boston Globe, PN ReviewHarvard Review, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor to The Critical Flame.

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