Mahrem—Things Men Should Do for Men: A Suite for O, by Edward Foster
Mahrem--Things Men Should Do for Men: A Suite for O.|
Marsh Hawk Press, 2002.
65 pages, $8 (paperback).
The poems in Edward Foster's Mahrem are spare, elegant and elliptical. Coupled with photographs of scenes and young men from Turkey interspersed throughout the book, they combine to form a landscape of loss, broken or fleeting incomplete relationships, and ultimate aloneness and "strangeness" Foster describes in the book's preface.
Something has happened to the persona behind these poems, in a place that the photographs here attempt to recall. There is a relationship, or numerous relationships, between men, or a man and a younger men or boys, which has now ended. "Compatriots are central to my life— // you once were mine," Foster writes in "All Friendships End the Same." Much of Mahrem recalls the work of another gay poet of loss and the past set in the Mediterranean, C. P. Cavafy, with Istanbul here standing in for Cavafy's Alexandria:
Show the men along
the beach. Attract me so.
The photos fade. Watch how boys
—inch by inch—can disappear.
("No Decision on My Look Alike")
A poet, critic, and editor (most recently of work on Jack Spicer, the Black Mountain poets, and The World in Time and Space: Towards a History of Innovative American Poetry, 1970-Now) Edward Foster's work is carefully poised and displays an elegant use of language. His stance, perhaps, is too careful, too poised, and too elliptical, however. One reads Mahrem wishing for more of a way "in" to these poems. If Foster wants to spare us the exact details of the relationships described in the book that's all well and fine. The poems often tip into the hermetic, leaving the reader searching for clues to understanding them, determining what has happened, and uncovering exactly it is that men are supposed to do for men, as the subtitle suggests. Foster hints that simply to remember may be enough. Real understanding hovers just at the edges of the poems in Mahrem. Perhaps that is one of the points Foster wants to make, that fully understanding anyone or any experience is impossible, and that we ultimately all remain "ecnebi," strangers or outsiders to one another, despite our intimacies.