Laura Foley’s WTF refers to her father’s initials, and slyly, to the abbreviated colloquial exclamation, in a pun that laughs and cuts, in this reckoning with a fraught father-daughter relationship. These spare poems communicate more like snapshots than narrative lyrics, beginning with sympathy and gratitude, moving through disappointment, anger and resentment, without ever losing compassion, as Foley examines her father’s formative WWII experiences, and consequently, how he shaped her experience and character, ending with a positive recognition of her father in herself.
I like “The Long View” (in the collection WTF) for its abundance of precise and effective details: an exact location, many poignant indicators of the subject’s confined and increasingly lonely life. The tone is restrained (no pleading for sympathy) but the lines move urgently, and the pity grows with them. Many years and much sadness in the spacious apartment are made palpable in the confines of verse.
—David Constantine, Judge of the McClellan Poetry Competition
Laura Foley, a master of memory as poem, brings us a portrait of tragedy, loss and longing. For those of us whose fathers were strangers, Foley's WTF provides a perfect commiseration through the "survivor's eyes" in her beautifully understated language.
—John Paul O’Connor, Author of Half the Truth
Sensual language and alliterative verses make this poetic celebration of traumas and triumphs a meaningful read. Poet Laura Foley’s strong fifth collection, Night Ringing, ruminates on romance and family via autobiographical free verse.
Midway through the collection, a poem poses an important question: “How shall we make sense of these images, lapping over us, day and night…” The answer seems to come in the transformation of autobiographical vignettes into a variety of alliterative poems. Gently erotic language and moments culled from everyday life are used in poems that commemorate family members and lovers, lost and found.
—Rebecca Foster, Foreward Reviews
“I revel in the genius of simplicity” Laura Foley writes as she gives us in plain-spoken but deeply lyrical moments, poems that explore a life filled with twists and turns and with many transformations. Through it all is a search for a fulfilling personal and sexual identity, a way to be most fully alive in the world. From multicultural love affairs through marriage with a much older man, through raising a family, through grief, to lesbian love affairs, Night Ringing is the portrait of a woman willing to take risks to find her own best way. And she does this with grace and wisdom. As she says: “All my life I’ve been swimming, not drowning.”
—Patricia Fargnoli, author of Winter, Duties of the Spirit, and Then, Something
I love the words and white space of poetry. I love stories even more. In this collection, Laura Foley evokes stories of crystallized moments, of quiet and overpowering emotion, of bathtubs and lemon chicken. The author grows up on the pages, comes of age, and reconciles past with present. Almost. Try to put the book down between poems to savor each experience. Try, but it won't be easy.
—Joni B. Cole, author of Toxic Feedback, Helping Writers Survive and Thrive
Plain-spoken and spare, Laura Foley’s poems in Night Ringing trace a life story through a series of brief scenes: separate, intense moments of perception, in which the speaker’s focus is arrested, when a moment opens to reveal a glimpse of the larger whole. Memories of a powerful, enigmatic father, a loving but elusive mother, a much older husband, thread Foley’s stories of childhood, marriage and motherhood, finally yielding to the pressure of her attention, as she constructs a series of escapes from family expectations, and moves toward a new life. In these lucid, intense poems, Foley’s quiet gaze, her concentration, and emotional accuracy of detail, render this collection real as rain.
—Cynthia Huntington, author of Heavenly Bodies
Foley’s voice rings with quiet authority undercut by calamity, examining a life so extraordinary, she seems to have lived several people’s lives, setting a high bar for poetic craft she meets, in great mystery perfectly expressed in the tiny, quotidian, “spent matches pressed on wet pavement,” to soulful beauty, “as wind lifts/every shining wave”; in wisdom rooted in humor, from the deliciously funny “Flunking Jung,” to self-deprecating wit, misreading “poetic” as “pathetic,” reminding us wisdom is love, grown from self-compassion.
—April Ossmann, author of Anxious Music
JOY STREET is extremely moving, and almost unprecedentedly direct, simple, devastatingly clear.
—David Ferry (National Book Award in Poetry)
Clarion Review, Five Stars (out of Five)
Foley takes command of the meaning behind her words, bending and mastering them with her positive outlook on life.
Laura Foley’s fourth poetry collection, Joy Street, is a slender volume that can be easily read all at once, then immediately perused again for favorite passages. The award-winning author of The Glass Tree writes of her life since she was widowed and acknowledged her own queerness. Every poem in the book is suffused with celebration and wonder, even when the subject matter is dark.
The collection’s title comes from a line in her poem “No GPS Necessary,” which in itself is an excellent example of the spirit of the book—to find that beautiful shimmer of light even in uncertainty. In the poem, Foley has taken her partner, Clara, to the hospital for brain surgery: “we walk the antiseptic corridors, / and she’s wheeled away, / as I return to Joy Street, / where yesterday / she said those words to me.” What are those words? Why, of course they are “I love you.” Melancholy and grief cannot survive when love has firmly established itself. In the poem “Like Teenagers,” during Clara’s recovery, she and Foley stay positive, even “when we knew she could go at any / moment, we had a good time: put calming music on, held hands.” They giggle and kiss, not only cherishing but engaging in their shared life.
Throughout the collection, Foley’s poems touch upon changes large and small in her world with a delighted awe. Living in a new home with a new dog and partner (mirrored in artist Barbara Perrine Chu’s cover art), and with her children grown, Foley opens this chapter of her life with eyes wide open. Self-acceptance permeates her work. So does an appreciation for the quirks of aging. In “Rare,” she admits that she has always loved her freckles, seeing her body as “sun-kissed.” That changes when “a doctor freezes / my skin damage, blistering / a piece of me
away, / changing how I frame it.” With wry humor, she goes on to point out other bodily changes—her distorted feet are “medieval.” Her wispy hair, described as “fine” by a hairdresser, is dressed up in Foley’s view as “excellent, as in fine wine.” The poet takes command of the meaning behind her words, bending and mastering them.
Foley favors blank verse and a narrative style. Rarely are the poems more than one or two stanzas long. Overall, the collection’s tone changes only subtly—gradations of brightness. Even her darkest poems have a positive spin. In “Hindsight,” Foley studies a photo of her father taken after his release as a POW for the Japanese. He’d been starved and tortured, but it’s his “survivor eyes, / just like mine” that ultimately demand recognition. Strength of will and courage triumph over adversity. All of the poems are brief and spare—none more than a page long—yet the content is full of deep feeling. Readers will not regret spending time on Foley’s street of joy.
—Olivia Boler, Clarion Review
The Glass Tree
In her third poetry collection, The Glass Tree, Laura Davies Foley achieves a faultless marriage of the personal and universal. Foley shares her grief over her husband’s death, her pleasure in her children, and the personal rewards of her poetry work in descriptions that are short and spare. Most are no longer than a page. What the pieces don’t give up by being so restrained is a richness that comes from the poet’s keen observational eye.
In “Slow Loss,” Foley recounts her husband’s declining health: “his mind weakens first, / letting go of facts, numbers // vanishing in the brain’s haze … // Not for years does the body follow, / gleefully sprouting tumors, cancer.” The language is crisp and succinct, and the brief poem of three stanzas is like a sped-up time-lapse video of moving toward life’s end. Anyone can relate, either through experience or anticipation.
Foley excels at creating relatable snapshots of her unique situation. In the narrative poem “Autism,” she writes about her daughter, who wakes in the middle of the night wailing. Foley, half asleep, soothes her with the lovely suggestion to “Get the / dog … Put your fingers through her fur … Sail on her back.” After a second interruption, Foley dives back into sleep, “down to where lily fronds sway and children, if there are / any, are easy to love.” Foley’s description of a parent’s unconditional love is crystal clear.
Some poems address Foley’s work as a hospital chaplain giving comfort to patients and families. She beautifully describes the sick and dying as “undersea creatures” attached to breathing tubes and beeping, whirring machines. Her language paints complicated pictures with a seemingly paradoxical simplicity.
Perhaps the most intriguing poem is “Homelessness Retreat,” in which the poet spends three nights sleeping on the streets with strangers and with no money or change of clothes, and not even a toothbrush. At three pages, this is a longer piece than Foley’s others, and it powerfully describes homelessness with bravery and compassion—not romanticizing the situation, but honoring it.
The Glass Tree was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. Foley’s previous books, both published in 2007, are Syringa and Mapping the Fourth Dimension. Her work has been published in several journals, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships, including the Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest Grand Prize.
Interestingly, Foley has also worked with prisoners on the art of meditation. In her poem “In Concord Prison,” a prisoner, Kevin, notices a bud on a tree in winter, something only he can see from his vantage point of a “narrow window / too small to crawl from.” This piece gives ownership to Kevin of something that cannot be taken away from him, as his freedom has been. It gives him dignity.
That is what Foley’s poems do. They take ownership of feelings—anguish, adoration, frustration, joy, serenity—and give dignity to the dying, the impaired, the homeless, the imprisoned. With this collection, Foley shows that poetry really does have the power to set us free.
—Olivia Boler, Clarion Review
I received your book and kept turning pages, turning pages, reading. I'll definitely use it with Writing and the Creative Process (PSU course) second semester. Wow!
—Professor Lynn Chong, Plymouth State University
Mary Rees titled her book on Dhamma, BEING PRAYER. Thich Nhat Hanh equates mindfulness with the holy ghost. Mary Oliver writes: "I don't know exactly what a prayer is, I do know how to pay attention." That's what Laura Davies Foley's poems do. They pay attention.
The poems themselves "relax and attend." They free the spirit into resiliency and breath. In so doing, certainly for their creator and potentially for their readers, the poems have the power to heal broken wings and teach them to fly.
In reading the poems in Syringa you might even feel, as Paul McCartney wrote so long ago: "All my life, I've been only waiting for this moment to arrive."
—Doreen Schweizer, Guiding Teacher, Valley Insight Meditation Society
We LOVE your book of poems, Syringa.
What a wonderful poet you are! You totally speak to me!!
—Annie B BondExecutive Producer, Care2 Healthy Living, Author of Home Enlightenment
Any person who has ever loved and lost and who continues to seek wholeness and peace needs Syringa on their bedside table. Thank you for sharing your path and your heart with us.
Mapping the Fourth Dimension
Let the April rains come in.
I am a sloping hill with new buds piercing.
So opens one of the poems in MAPPING THE FOURTH DIMENSION, the 2006 collection from Laura Davies Foley. And it's one of the gentler openings in the book, but it heads toward the final lines:
I have no skin.
My hair is gone.
The candle within draws deeper.
And that solemnity, that willingness to paint loss in its sorrows as well as its potential, rings with honesty. Wherever or whenever we'll have the chance to meet and hold our dead again, the time between now and then hurts. Foley says goodbye and "I miss you" repeatedly in this collection.
Yet each poem is as different from the others as one face is from the faces around us. The poem "Exiled," for instance, proclaims absence -- then paces through walking by a lake or through winter, and at last into summer:
And in this walking,
this movement away, I came to a clearing
and received the clearing light,
the clouds moving apart, and you,
like a footprint
filling now with sand,
and the wide shore stretching on.
It fascinates me that Foley's second collection, SYRINGA, published in 2007, seems to have overlapped the first collection in gestation time -- each book mentions the other. But SYRINGA, springing from contemplation of a wounded waterbird and from a parallel contemplation of self and spirit, gathers light in great, sweet-scented armfuls and proclaims joy and blessing from these roots. Consider "A Day":
I was watching the geese sleeping.
I was watching the one
with the broken wing.
The serene one, floating in her painful knowledge.
As Foley leads the lines through patterns and shifting light, she resolves the poem with:
The ordinary is always like that.
Always ready to reveal itself
as something other.
But it isn't other.
It's just the ordinary.
And isn't that
the extraordinary thing we come to know?
In SYRINGA there waits also the sea at dusk; a five-year-old child diving; a solstice sparrow; and moments from hospice caring. The lines are generally short, the poems a page more or less, and the images unforgettable.
—Beth Kannell, Kingdom Books