Reviewed by Sarah W. Bartlett
Poet Laura Foley is not new to publication having won a couple of poetry contests and been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. She is the author of six collections of poetry, all of which have received rave reviews. Into the bargain, she has a unique photographer’s eye trained to unusual perspective and subject matter. You really need to visit her website to see what I mean.
Her perceptive eye and heart, perhaps enhanced by her Buddhist training and work as a prison and palliative care volunteer, make themselves known in her sparse but tell-all verse. In this slim volume of poems about her father, Foley offers brief glimpses into moments both before her birth and after: the stoic soldier and the distant father, two lives in one being. The counterpoint provides context that extends far beyond her few words.
Foley’s style resonates with me. Moments are captured in carefully crafted containers of short verse, rich in detail and tight in construction. Consider the contrast of the father in “Yasumé” who made up stories “… at ease, in Japanese/his favorite word” and “the world/powered by a word” (10)—with the one in “Daddy’s Girls” who calls his girls “a Chinese curse” his ease gone and their learning “to turn away/duck his gaze/but still he broke us…” (13).
Another pair portrays the complexities of the man’s lived experience: “Prayer, 1943” with its image of intense focus reframed as prayer (12) while in “WTF!” the father’s words become damning: “You’ve missed an opportunity to please” (14). Of course, the double entendre of “WTF” is not lost on the reader anywhere in the collection; here it is front and center.
Foley has mastered the art of the punchline. Even in short verse, there is often a twist at the end that brings the reader up short, requiring a second, even third reading of the lines to fully savor the impact. I’m thinking, for instance, of “Not Humming,” the harsh demand on forced march and the poet’s observation, “My father not humming / the whole of four winters / or to my knowledge, since” (15). In “My Father’s Roses,” we see the man’s tenderness at its most poignant, his attention to the roses’ care and “tenderly placing each / in its own vase / never minding their thorns” (19). Clearly the poet has not been able to overlook the thorns between them; yet, she is able to appreciate, even celebrate, this tenderness in him in the same breath with which she yearns for some of it for herself.
In thinking about the language Foley uses in her work, I am struck by recurring uses of temperature, particularly variations on “chilly,” “frigid,” “icy”—and how the sense of distance often associated with coldness pervades the poems. Perhaps the most telling line is “for him the war is never over” (“Sendai Prison Camp, 1945” 18), And surely this is the legacy of many who, like Foley’s father, fought in a war of unimaginable horrors, deprivations and unknowns. How could one escape without scars both inside and out? And how could a child understand any of that growing up?
So it is with a sense of compassion for both father and child that the poet offers another kind of twist: “his survivor eyes / just like mine” (“Hindsight” 21) and “Now he’s receiving an award…beaming into the camera / with my pride and feistiness” (“Family Photograph” 29): the father has the daughter’s features, rather than vice versa.
Each poem is a microcosm all its own. Taken together, they weave a pre- and post-collage of a challenging relationship that forms the backdrop for deep self-reflection. The poet manages to offer her story without any trace of self-pity; rather, she stares directly into the truth. It is perhaps this resolve for balance that makes one poem stand out for me—dare I call it my favorite of this collection?—for its compassionate insight, simply stated. “Dad’s Last Night,” in eight short lines, tells a lifetime. And its craft is so exquisitely pure. I keep lingering on the last two lines: “Imagine then / his long walk home.” I cannot help but sense a deeper meaning here, as we imagine his long walk home to her heart.
Foley’s “WTF” is a deceptively modest volume that begs rereading to fully appreciate its depth and reach. Her words will touch each of us in our own way through universal themes of experience and relationship, offered through unique details of a time and place that shaped so many.
Here's an excerpt:
I've definitely fallen in love with Foley's writing style...Taking breaths in between the poems, I devoured the book and forgot that it was even a series of poems -- it felt so much like a narrative, it was stunning. Had it had drawings, I probably would have cried even more.
I’m really pleased to tell you that judge Jean Sprackland selected your poem ‘Shadows and Light’ as one of 6 winning poems in the Forecast competition. Congratulations!
So your poem will be featured in the summer issue of Poetry News..."
Laura Foley's chapbook WTF is released by CW Books.
Laura Foley's poetry collection Night Ringing (Headmistress Press) is reviewed by Karen Elias in the current issue of Main Street Rag.
Laura Foley's poem "And So" was a Finalist in the Alexandria Quarterly Valentine's Day Contest.
Laura Foley's poem "Corked" is part of the art exhibit: Unnatural Election: Artists Respond to the 2016 US Presidential Elections.
Laura Foley's poem "Equus" appears in the Silver Birch Press, Me at 17, series.
Laura Foley's poems "The Sea Turtle" and "The Expanding Universe" appear in the current issue of Gyroscope Review.
Laura Foley's book Joy Street received Honorable Mention in the Wordwrite Book Awards.
Laura Foley's poem "Message From the Beyond" was a Finalist in the Rash Award for Poetry.
Laura Foley's poem "The Vortex" appears in the Fall/Winter issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review
Laura Foley's poem "In Unison" appeared on Poetry Breakfast
Laura Foley's poem "The Quiet Listeners" appears in the current issue of Poems in the Waiting Room, New Zealand.
Laura Foley has three poems, "Twice the Speed of Sound," "When I Went Out This Morning," and "The Wrangler" featured on Peacock Journal.
Laura Foley's poem "In the Honda Service Area" was featured on Autumn Sky Poetry Daily on September 20th.
Laura Foley's poetry book Night Ringing (Headmistress Press) was reviewed on Savvy Verse and Wit.
Book review of Laura Foley's Night Ringing (Headmistress Press) in The Mom Egg Review:
Laura Foley's poem "The Long View" received High Commendation in the McClellan Poetry Prize, judged by David Constantine
Laura Foley's chapbook "WTF" was a Finalist in the Munster Lit. Fool For Poetry Chapbook Competition
Laura Foley has four poems: "Ode to My Feet," "Two Women," "Cavafy," and "I Go Down to the River" in Soul-Lit, Summer 2016
Laura Foley's poem "Gratitude List" was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac on July 31st.
She has two poems up at Verse-Virtual, August 2016 edition. Titles: "It Is Time" and "Driving Route 95."
Laura Foley's poem "The Absent Place" appeared on Autumn Sky Daily on July 29th.
Laura Foley's poem "Not Humming" appeared on Autumn Sky Daily on July 1st.
Laura Foley was interviewed on the creative process, by Choral Arts Initiative.
Her poem "The Long View" received "Highly Commended" in the McClellan Poetry Prize, Arran Island, Scotland, judged by David Constantine and she was invited to read at the McClellan Arts Festival, on Arran Island.
Laura Foley's poem "Nine Ways of Looking at Light," winner of the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Award, appeared in the June 2nd issue of Provincetown Magazine.
Laura Foley has four poems in the June issue of Verse-Virtual.
Her poem "Debut and Finale" appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Adanna: Women and Art.
Her poem "I Say Yes" appears in the current issue of Chiron Review.
"Catullus" appears in Lavender Review June 2016.
Garrison Keillor reading Laura Foley's "Gratitude List" on A Prairie Home Companion, May 21st, 2016:
Dear Laura Foley,
I'm pleased to tell you that your poem "Gratitude List" has won a first prize of $1000 in the Common Good Books poetry contest ("Gratitude") and will be read on "A Prairie Home Companion" on May 21.
Laura Foley appeared as guest poet on Royalton Community Radio, May 10th, 2016. (see photo).
- Gratitude List won first prize in the Common Good Books poetry contest, judged by Garrison Keillor
- National Winner, Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy: Nine Ways of Looking at Light
- Bi-Writer’s Award in Poetry: Joy Street
- Foreword Book of the Year, Silver Winner: The Glass Tree
- Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Award: The Sounds Oblivion Makes
- Atlanta Review, Grand Prize: It Is Time: An American Pastoral
- Bunner Award, Columbia University: Wallace Stevens’ Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction
- Drift, Headmistress Press
- Father-in-Law, Bloodroot Review
- It Is Time, Atlanta Review
Finalists, Honorable Mentions, Long Lists, Short Lists
- Aesthetica Creative Writing Award: Herculean
- Two Sylvias Press Wilder Prize: It's This
- NH Writer’s Project Outstanding Book of the Year: The Glass Tree
- Ruth Stone Poetry Prize: Driving Route 95
- String Poets: At the Doctor’s Office
- Autumn House: Night Ringing
- Tupelo Press: The Glass Tree
- Philip Levine Poetry Prize: The Glass Tree
- Sable Books: Between Apple and Limb
- Sheila Motton Poetry Book Award: The Glass Tree
- Homebound Publications: Night Ringing
- Cultural Center of Cape Cod 2014 Poetry Competition: Four Poems
- Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize: Between Apple and Limb
- Able Muse: Night Ringing
- Able Muse: Not Drowning
- Hospital Drive Poetry Contest: Film Noir
- The Vortex: Fish Poetry Prize
- Frost Place
Readings, a Partial List
- Rowe Camp and Conference Center, Rowe, MA
- Shelburne Falls Collected Poets Series, Shelburne Falls, MA
- Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT
- Howe Library, Hanover, NH
- Plainfield Library, Plainfield, NH
- Left Bank Books, Hanover NH
- Dragonfly Inn, Windsor, VT
- Hanover Inn (with Grace Paley), Hanover NH
- Dirt Cowboy Café, Hanover, NH
- Northfield Falls, Northfield, VT
- Kingdom Books, St. Johnsbury, VT
- HMP Reading, The Ear Inn, NYC
- Mom Egg Review Reading, NYC
- Woodstock VT Library
- Harbor Mountain Press, Ascutney, VT
- The Blue Horse Inn, Woodstock, VT
- Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon NH
Revolution, White River Junction, VT
- Wellfleet Preservation Hall, Wellfleet, MA
Bethlehem Public Library, Bethlehem NH