Paradise Drive, Rebecca Foust
Press 53, 2015
Reviewed by Julie Demoff-Larson
I am not even sure where to begin this review because Rebecca Foust’s Paradise Drive, winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry, has taken me on a surprisingly emotional journey. Paradise Drive is a contemporary collection of sonnets that is critical of a perceived world of perfection and exposes its ugliness while reminding that the realities of the past are still the realities of today. The collection is a moving narrative that addresses the social climate of the privileged and questions their morals, behaviors, and priorities as the narrator, Pilgrim, observes, converses, and critiques the upper echelon.
A lengthy editor’s note by Tom Lombardo introduces the reader to Paradise Drive as a “collection of irony and metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche, with a dose of synesthesia” and gives a brief synopsis so you aren’t going into this alone. And it isn’t that the collection is a difficult read, it is only to help you move through Foust’s structure and transitions with more ease as you begin to read. You may begin the collection thinking this is a bit confusing, but by the time you reach “Party Etiquette,” a three part poem, you fully understand what is happening and try your damnedest not to bust out crying in the middle of a hair salon because all of a sudden you are Pilgrim. We are all Pilgrim trying to make sense of a senseless world, and it is Foust that puts it all on the line for us. From the children that aren’t in the box in “Party Etiquette,” to the forgotten soldier of war in “Meanwhile, Elsewhere.” These themes capture what “Pilgrim holds—good and bad—what I am./featured here in its radicle form:/seeker, someone who leaves her home (pg. 4).
Foust also introduces the reader to the context of the collection in the first two poems. Paradise Drive provides the setting for the collection—a perfectly packaged suburban oasis, yet:
“…Mt. Tam mantled
each dawn in fog, then naked and lit
from within. Winter sunsets, the sky
a wound, the sky vivid and gashed;
each day bound to the last with dark thread.”
Here, it is evident that Paradise Drive will continue with this dark thread of contempt. Foust then presents the narrator in the next poem “Meet Pilgrim,” “Who, voice-trained from birth in desire,/ wakes one morning wanting—nothing—/ in the way of things. Wanting some not-thing/ not quite not-seen.”
But it is in “Cocktail Party” that we find out what Pilgrim really wants—the written word and the knowledge it provides. But the learning comes from external sources too.
Foust is brilliant in constructing many poems as what was, yet is still ever present—aka. irony—as in “Real Housewives, 1. Stepford Wives Theme Party.”
“…Funny at first,
the film featured full skirts topped in chiffon
sheer over bras built by an engineer
who also built rockets nearly as easy to wear.
Watching the wind lash the house on the screen,
We each thought the same thought: I’m not that girl.
But when the door blew open, we all felt the chill.”
I contend that these conditioned attitudes, these conditioned responses need to be questioned and brought to the forefront of our conversations, but Foust is taking it a bit further by poking fun at how we just accept it and go no further with the controlled behavior of others.
There is a shift to a more insular reflective tone in the work in the final section titled “O Earth Return.” I find the sonnets here to be more intimate—maybe more of a personal story and not so much of a social critique. The opening sonnet in this section is “Prayer for My New Daughter, a beautiful poem that examines the difficult transition period for transgender people and the dangers they must consider. How beautiful the final line is:
“You are as soft as sown grass and fierce as cut glass.
You pack your new purse with lipstick, and mace.”
Rebecca Foust’s collection is deeply layered and truly meaningful. This is not a breezy read. To fully understand and grasp all that is here, I recommend a full read through and then go through again. There is a lot going on here and each time you will discover new meaning.