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FOSTER, EDWARD (1942- ) Edward Foster is a leading contributor to American experimental lyric poetry. His Gnostic poems—poems in which what is known is received through, rather than proposed by, language—are deeply and often darkly rooted in the New England transcendental tradition. They surface, as Foster has written of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "as part of an emerging language . . . offered as the process of meaning rather than as conclusive insight or finality" (Answerable 20-21). While Emerson, Manoah Bodman, and Wallace stevens are clear early influences on his work, Foster cites Jack spicer, William bronk, and Con-stantine Cavafy as the "'gods' in [his] pantheon" (Answerable 126).
Foster was born and raised in rural Williamsburg, Massachusetts, leaving for Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1970. As a Fulbright lecturer in Turkey, he grew to love that country's exotic culture, finding sources there for many poems. Foster's numerous early publications were critical and biographical. His first book of poetry, The Space between Her Bed and Clock, was published in 1993. His fifth book, The Angelus Bell (2001), won critical acclaim, as has his latest, MAHREM: Things Men Should Do for Men (2002). Codirector of the Russian/American Cultural Exchange Program, he has received a number of grants and awards. Additionally, as founding editor in 1987 of the poetry journal Talisman and in 1993 of Talisman House Publishers, Foster has provided an arena for many extraordinary poets writing outside the mainstream.
Foster's work, while meticulously engineered to revelatory movement through cadence and tonality, simultaneously acknowledges the work's source, one that precedes consciousness and personality, yet uses these as a means through which its intent can be manifest in language. Foster explains this best in his own words: "There is a god in the wind, and a wind in the god, and, as Ted [berrigan] says, you attend to the gods. It is the wind that shapes our course along the road and, invisible, announces its presence in the act, the curve that is the poem" (Answerable 113). In "Family and Friends" (2001), for example, Foster writes of "a film / where ancient looks / educate the eye." Around a complex core of contradictions, Foster layers lean but luminous imagery, allowing the reader access into the experience that informs it through grainy half moments captured in the language, then released.
Termed "inveterately Apollonian" by John Olson (13), Foster can well be compared to Apollo, the masculine god of light, divination, and form: "I met / the young boy once to contradict his stare" ("The Blessed Wall Comes Down" ). Here, as elsewhere, in Foster's work, the dominant cultural distribution of authority and power is confronted by homoerotic imagery. Through unswerving integrity and anarchistic rigor, Foster's lines, like these from "Hadrian's Will" (2001), "have the wings / that lead us back / to angels in the street."
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