As in Every Deafness
by Graham Foust
Flood Editions, $13 (paper)

It may be that the most difficult poetic form isn’t the sestina or the rondeau redoublé but a modernist, free-verse form commonly known as the “skinny” poem: three-, two-, and often one-word lines expose the poet’s every gesture. With the 50 poems in his debut collection, Graham Foust swiftly takes a seat alongside a handful of others (including William Carlos Williams, the form’s originator; Robert Creeley; and the late Larry Eigner) as a master of that most minimalist, no-place-to-hide form. Here, in its entirety, is Foust’s “Night Train”: “creased, the darkness seems / exactly // the same— // someone / in one of those houses // is you.” Yet for all their economy, the largesse of these frequently rhyming, expertly paced poems accommodates the great themes of the human condition, from love (“One day love / is mere / manipulation. / . . . On another day love / is purely possession”) to death (“Bury me / up to my kite”; “You look / as if I haven’t seen a ghost”) and the complexities of time (“Tomorrow is the newer / of two ruins”; “give this scream / time”). Allusions to addiction and addicts throughout lend the collection grit and gravitas, but their autobiographical relevance is somewhat beside the fact—what do any of our desperately craved, quick-fix commodities deliver in the end if not a kind of narcosis? (“Welcome, autumn / to my room / of empty things.”) Foust’s brutally elegant condensation distills a sore, sensitive intensity rather than a Reader’s Digest–style abridgment. Our age of the sound bite has its own logic, its own snap judgments and damnations, and with As in Every Deafness, Foust emerges as the dangerous, tight-lipped Milton of that world-weary downfall: “Knives / from a child // are not as beautiful / to pull.” He goes straight to the point.