Friday, January 15, 2016

Rebecca Foust's Paradise Drive - Review

My thoughts
I have to admit to going through something of a midlife crisis at this point in my life. I'm not acting out or experiencing it in the traditional, obvious ways (like an affair...not possible since I'm no longer married), but in subtle ways like job disillusionment. Really just disillusionment in general, I guess. So, Pilgrim's journey/experiences in these brilliantly written sonnets really hit home for me.

The written word has always had a deeper meaning for me than just entertainment, and never is that more so than when I read poetry. As I'm going through this period in my life, I found myself really identifying with many of Pilgrim's experiences in these sonnets.

She finds herself at parties, teeming with the examples of the seven deadly sins and she shuts herself in the bathroom to escape, to read. Soon, she is always armed at these occasions with a book in her purse. Sound familiar? I always have a book with me and could so see myself doing this. Especially if subjected to the narcissism and elitism she finds herself exposed to.

"...Pilgrim ran for the bathroom, not for coke 
as others supposed, but for something
more covert and rare: a book, 
or any bit of anything written. An antidote 
to the twitter Out There..."
(Page 5)

And then her fears in regards to her special needs son (autism, Asperger's, spectrum disorders), as I have dealt with these same fears with my son. Powerful, powerful words...

"...and where to find 
the manual that tells how to respond
to the loved child who from his snug bed
whispers, I wish I were dead, Mom?
Tell me, Dr. Spock, what to do about that,
what does a mother fucking do about that?"
(Page 18)

And what so many of us run to and alas, it doesn't help/didn't work, at least not in my case...

"Pilgrim knew what the answer was: get born
again. Even if it hadn't worked out 
so well the first time. Te altar-call part,
the prophesying, the speaking-in-tongues
all felt a lot like a Ouija board cheat, 
you know, wanting it so much that, OK, 
(Page 61)

And here, I think what we perhaps all were taught and continually strive for, even through our trials, midlife crises, etc...

"...So clear then, the rules: 
better yourself. Work hard. Save. Pay the bills."
(Page 15)

As I said, profound. If you love poetry, you must pick up this book. 

I leave you with this final sonnet, which speaks to my love of books and reading, to the mother who instilled that love in me, and to the validity of the escape and redemption that can come from reading a book...

Forgotten Image

Your mother, reading on the stairs in light
poured in a wide shaft. At night, shadows,
soft thuds and pleading, clink-clink of his ice
in the glass. Your mother, reading. Light seen
through a chink in a cellar wall. The attic air,
dry and danced with bright motes. You know
it's there, at the top of the house, the stairs
you must muster the mind to ascend. But how?
Where is the first step? Your old notebooks,
dust-felted, stacked up somewhere. Your mother,
reading. The sense of another life, inside 
and outside the walls. An attic, other upper rooms
in the home. Other homes. You are a mother now,
too--so many open mouths, so much to do--
your mother reading, reading herself alive. Showing you.

About the book
Paradise Drive links 80 sonnets in a narrative about a modern Pilgrim on a journey from rust belt Pennsylvania to the glittering suburbs of Marin County, California. The book takes great pleasure in questioning, tinkering with, and ultimately exploding the sonnet form. It has been well received, with more than 50 reviews and features since its release last April. Rumpus and the Washington Review of Books included it in their National Poetry Month picks, and the San Francisco Chronicle recently published this review.

About the Author
Rebecca Foust was the 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence and is the recipient of fellowships from The Frost Place, the MacDowell Colony, and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference Her fifth book, Paradise Drive, won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry. Her other books include All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song (Many Mountains Moving Prize), God, Seed (Foreword Book of the Year Award) and two chapbooks that won the Robert Phillips Chapbook Prizes in 2008 and 2009. Foust’s poems appear widely in journals including American Academy of Poets Poem-A-Day series, Hudson Review, Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Sewanee Review, and Verse Daily. A first generation college graduate, Foust attended Smith College (BA 1979), Stanford Law School (1979), and Warren Wilson College (MFA 2010). She lives in Northern California and works as Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change and assistant editor for Narrative Magazine.

Foust has won the 2015 American Literary Review Creative Writing Award for Fiction judged by Garth Greenwell and the 2015 James Heart Poetry Prize judged by Jane Hirshfield.

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  1. Hi Michelle, Thank you so much for being on this tour, and I'm so glad that the book resonated with you, though I wish it were under better circumstances. I hope that this time of disillusionment passes for you. I know how that can be.

  2. Great post! Poetry, especially new poetry, doesn't get much attention from book bloggers and that is a shame. Your heartfelt reflections on this collection show the power of reading good poems and taking them truly within, to nourish and care for us at the deepest levels.

  3. Beautiful words. Looks like one I'd like to pick up. I think disillusionment is just one of many steps on this journey of life. I hope you soon feel better about things. Great review.

  4. I like the parts about disillusionment, too, especially "wondering if wanting is, after all, all/there is."

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