Slouching Towards Pakistan by Contributor Jack Foster, A Review

Although sometimes I long for plain first lines, the ones that tell me exactly where I am and exactly what is happening, sometimes I tire of making my way through metaphor, fragment, or obscure juxtaposition and long for something like this:

Some say the closing of doors leads

to an inverse reaction – an economy of favors

hidden in the walls like electricity or body parts. (from “Out of Many, None”)

Are you not pulled in?  What precise words: closing, inverse, economy, electricity.  The scene is drawn so sharply—we see it—the doors, the reaction, the electricity.  Comparatively, “He thinks the morning belongs to himˮ is the statement Jack Foster makes in the first line of his poem, “A Father Leaves in the Morning”. In fact, most poems in this chapbook start with a tantalizing hook. Here are some other opening lines:

 

Drones in a flock, a kettle, a murder, ascend

into the bright, smoggy firmament, unbound from

the fetters of Euclidian geometry. (from “Birds of Paradise for the New World Order”)

 

The sound of worn tread weaving up

a familiar concrete slab echoes in the

ethereal silence of the night. (from “A Father Returns in the Nighttime”)

 

It is noted that even from the beginning, his work is carefully shaped and paced, such as begins “Prologue”:

 

Since the day our primate fathers earned

primordial thumbs, as the first son gripped

an innocuous sun bleached radius of a less-fit rival,

and when the handheld arm cracked through bone

and blood and sinew, the art of war immediately began

to forget its own sense of intimacy….

 

I can’t stop reading any poem beginning with lines like these. But this chapbook is not just technically skilled entertainment. The poems in Slouching Towards Pakistan may take off from interesting directions but lead the reader along darker paths. For instance, the first stanza from “The Road back Home”:

 

He attempts to enjoy the global news before his day

becomes a talking point, before both sides split

hairs and ignite basic fires. The ceremonial cover that garlands

his head falls off, the silken threads unravel,

revealing his worn body – all that remains

is an American man: birthed by the war

machine and cut from a sacrificial cloth.

A close look at “The Road back Home,” will show how many of Foster’s poems work. As we’ve seen “The Road back Home” opens with the wish for a quick death, an end before any radical stripping away of one’s place in the world imposed by, say, war. In fact, the entire poem layers tension with passion—a devastating mix. It is because Slouching Towards Pakistan gives us many poems like “The Road back Home” that I’ve read the chapbook again and again.

 

It is hard to say what exactly happens

beneath a foreign skyline. Jagged, ancient

landscapes skew the fish-eyed vision of men…

 

…There will be no water break,

no giving thanks for the guarantee of universally

recycled breath.

Many of the poems in Jack Foster’s deftly crafted chapbook, like “Before the Aftermath” from which the lines above are taken, focus on the complicated course of turmoil in a modern world—the wonder and the fear.  In “A Father Returns in the Nighttime,” like much of the chapbook, there are depths and precipices everywhere:

 

My father sneaks into the same

house he has lived in for years….

 

…delouses in front of the mirror,

scrapes his hands and chest with pumice

stone, as if to destroy every atom

every fiber. This time, too, does not belong

to him – his skin, like steam, rises into midnight’s

density, and fills the house with lingering

pain.

Overall, Jack Foster’s language is precise, but layered. He is grounded. Many poets are diverted by the various trappings: technical strictures, narration, sparkles of language when the purest poetic object is in its being, a composed composure. The greatest power of poetry is this of concentrating our concentration—and if the counter is made, poetry does this in a special way, powering-up our attention at the same time it provides objects profounder than jig saw pieces. Which is to say, these poems at their best are deep and deepening. They are quiet. They do not draw attention to themselves by tripping over themselves. This is the sterling quality of Jack Foster’s Slouching Towards Pakistan. This is why you should read it.

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