Review: A Mouth in California

Issue #113
Winter 2010-11

Graham Foust’s, poem “My Graham Foust,” caught my attention when I first read it in The Nation (November, 2007). That piece, with its slang, wit, and formal play, is emblematic of this collection:

Gone’s his fleshy shovel.
Gone’s his ticket; gone’s his train.
Gone’s the friend who stepped away
and almost saved him. Gone’s the blame.

I have looked forward to Foust’s next book since, and A Mouth in California provides great pleasure in poems at once cerebral and jocular, self-aggrandizing and self-effacing. Foust’s poems proceed by contradiction, as he takes a subject, ponders it, detours from it, cloisters it, disregards it, interrogates it, imagines and imagines further—yet keeps the reader in the company of flesh and blood, heart and soul. Poems dealing with literary influence and heritage, such as “Frost at Midnight”; “Scraps after Reverdy,” and others for Atwood, Creeley, Pound and Spicer, are distinctly unliterary. Foust captures them straight on and sideways; talks to them, and about them, subtly. The poems in this book, Foust’s fourth, are at once meditative, comic, and tragicomic, and sometimes glamorous. When a piece might be getting too wistful or grand, tv’s Mr. Ed makes an appearance: “a horse is a horse of course / of course.” You never know what to expect and there is a joy in being knocked off balance.