Joy Street Reviews
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
Joy Street by Laura Foley. Review by B.A. Goodjohn
On Saturday morning, I cracked open Laura Foley’s slim collection and read poems to the coffee machine’s slow dripping. I finished three before the carafe filled: “Wild Women Do,” free verse spare and sharp; then “Queer” and “Ghost Street,” both prose poems, both exploring words overheard and their impact. By the time I sat down with my first cup of coffee to finish the fourth poem, a strange kind of giddy hit me. Something in these poems was pulling me in, and I couldn’t quite work out what.
It wasn’t until Sunday when I reread each poem that I began to understand my reaction a little more. All good poems create intimacy, but the poems in JOY STREET create a brand of intimacy which borders on the sensual. They crook their fingers at the reader and say, “Come on in,” so that reading Foley’s work shares much with sitting on the edge of the theatre-in-the-round’s stage: you’re so close to the moments of these poems that you find yourself sitting at the table in the café, on the hospital bed, in the car with the roof open. You can feel “Gelato”’s empty plastic dish (warm and a little sticky) in your hands. That’s what Foley’s poems offer to her reader…and that level of intimacy can be a little giddying.
JOY STREET’s poems explore a breadth of relationships. They take us from childhood’s moments of unspoken sexual desire (“I look up the narrow airshaft of my childhood home, with no desire I dare pronounce.” 3), to awareness (“Once, I said Hi, as she passed, and she smiled back, seizing me with dumb fright, as usual, when it’s someone I like. Because we’re both women, I’ve learned this means I’m queer.” 2). They open the door (the bedroom door) to the complexity of new relationships (“Even trees sleep in midnight air, whose stillness seems endless, / when you wander dream streets without me.” 9).
The “joy” of JOY STREET is that Foley chooses not to make this collection a celebration of purely romantic love. That’s not to say such a choice wouldn’t have resulted in an impressive grouping of poems. But Foley’s decision to use a primary relationship as anchor for exploring other relationships (with illness, with animals, with trauma—both as witness and as survivor: “One feature commands our attention; my partner names it, his survivor eyes, just like mine.” 17) widens its scope enough to allow every reader to find something of herself inside.
I found much of my own life in these poems. I found things I already knew about myself—how walking the dog takes me to places beyond the trail, how settling into new relationships troubles me, about the glorious selflessness of love. However, I also caught sight of paths that aren’t so well trodden. In fact, some of them I hadn’t known were there.
All my life I have been attracted to writing that allows me to identify. But as I grow older, I am drawn more by the flame of ideas and possibilities outside my experience. I seem to hanker for the unknown, for “uncharted seas” (26). For me, Foley’s poem “Rare” hands over this desire with its closing lines: “Once, I wanted fish well done / but rare calls me now” (15).
I too find myself hankering for “rare” and am pleased to have found it inside Laura Foley’s JOY STREET.
The poetry in Joy Street is sharp and concise. Laura Foley packs a lot into a short space with poignant lines about loss, awkwardness, and same-sex families, and the result is beautiful and vivid.
The settings of the poems are almost all from everyday scenes. The poems touch on the loss of her dead husband, or the loss of her strained relationship with her father. Sea imagery gives the poetry a sense of peace, even when interjected with pieces about cancer or her father being a prisoner of war for 4 years in WWII. But in between are also poems about her dogs or being a stay-at-home mom.
Foley never uses the word bisexual, but the word hovers unspoken right from the beginning. The first poem in the collection is about how awkward it is to be picked up by a woman when her previous relationship is with a man. Later, one of the ending poems in about how her family reacts to her being with a woman. (“Drift”).
A real gem in this collection is “Dinner Party,” where we find out more about her deceased husband. It’s a quirky poem about how she’s going to impress the snooty lawyers at her new partner’s work party by talking about the husband she buried in her front yard, and losing the opportunity when topic changes. She finds herself irrationally worrying that she has buried him wrong. I loved this poem because it establishes some of the weird issues bi people have to face when moving from a relationship with a person of one gender to another, and the awkwardness that comes from having to explain (or not explain) this situation to new people.
The result is a warm little collection. Even the themes of loss don’t detract from the warm glow of Joy Street. I would recommend this to any bi poetry reader.