The Beginning of Sorrows by Edward Foster
If poetry can be a tool for cutting against the grain, it's also a mode of speech in which things we've stopped admitting to each other resurface. Ed Foster's recent The Beginning of Sorrows has a familiar New England blunt, but what comes up in the cut is the way the language of sin still has something to say to us, post-Modernist or not. It's not the most popular language to invoke, but it matters to Ed, and he does a fine job figuring out how to invoke the specter of sin without chasing us off.
The main frame of the volume is a set of short prose character studies that wickedly limn the seven sins. In each, the narrator's voice is pleasant and reasonable, despite the increasingly difficult character development described, and a gap opens up between the rational diction and the suffused feelings of horror and disgust that increasingly suffuse the figures. What we start to sense is that sin might be related to a profound inability to know self, to the gap that exists between rationalization and desire.
Each prose passage is set off by a cluster of poems and black-and-white photographs to produce a series of unclosed studies that open up difficult shapes and light in relation to this sense of what sin might be. The poems themselves shift between a fragmentary, epistolary-like address by which we get sight of part of an emotional entanglement and a slightly more hysterical gesture that finds an outsized feeling in relation to a text—Alice and Wonderland, for instance, or Mutiny on the Bounty.
The first type lingered longer for me—these were poems by someone well past fifty, with broken loves behind, staring down what there's left to do. There is a hard honesty to these that admits the author, and we, are not so different from the characters of the prose studies—we too know only a part of a thing, are violent in our feelings, or don't love well.
Perhaps then, it's not only that we don't know ourselves as sinners, but also that we make such a hash out of the love that we do find, that, from the perspective of an older decade, is a real beginning of sorrows. These poems break with that light, and even if the language of sin bugs you, you are going to feel the weight of Ed's argument and sorrow.