God, Seed sings the delights of nature, from lovers in “the cricket-sung, grass-sweet dark” to “sunlight/churned by the bees,” and eating fruit, “where sun/has lain, juicy/with rain.” Rebecca Foust’s language is sensual and sound-rich—the words almost have texture in the mouth, like persimmons “with rich river pudding, plush and pulp/soft-slide swallow delight/and sweet, sweet.” Many of the poems are paired with Lorna Stevens’ images (twenty-nine, in a range of media). Like the poems, her images are vivid and precise. They don’t so much illustrate the poems as complement them.
The book begins by celebrating the pleasures of the natural world, but turns to topics like pollution and extinction, looking squarely at our species’ impact on its environment. Foust’s writing is far from the preaching and clichés you might associate with “environmental poetry,” however. Her tightly-crafted poems match poetic skill with passion for the subject. The tone evokes a sense of shared tragedy and often complicity. Instead of blaming some convenient, outward “them,” she recognizes we all are involved. Most of the pronouns are plural—“we” and “our,” with only sparing use of “they.”
“Secondary Poison” dramatizes the cascading effects of spraying “our” roses or poisoning mice. “Raystown River Trout” is the antithesis of a fly-fishing-as-spiritual-practice poem: after the thrill of reeling in a fish downstream from a leaking mine, the speaker finds
“…just this prism
flash gone gray and my sick wish
not to have caught it; I wished I’d cut
the line before the glitter got away.”
Foust does not simply point out how people diminish the environment, but how, in doing so, we diminish ourselves. “Last Bison Gone” captures that relationship in one of the book’s most striking metaphors. The poem shows how things “we mean to admire, keep, re-create/or improve” are often destroyed, like a bird hunted to extinction to make feathered hats. But that human urge turns on us, too, when we want something too much,
“and always we touch it, our breath
blooming algae on the walls of Lascaux,
shimmering in acid-etch green.”
Those lines trace the desire to keep and admire back into prehistory, as they show modern visitors destroying the cave paintings in the urge to see them ourselves.
A particular strength of this collection is Foust’s ability to translate scientific ideas into poetic language. One might even say she expresses poetic ideas with scientific terms, as in “Teleology:” “One quark encrypts a universe,/a world unfurls from just one joule/of fire.” Her imagery and phrasing bring alive subjects like bee colony collapse, mutated frogs, and PCB pollution, presenting them in human terms.
There is ultimately a sense of hope in God, Seed, a desire “to feel/what the earth does/when it turns/over after winter/and breathes.” The collection argues vibrantly for being conscious of how we affect the environment and how we are connected to it, but is much more than an environmental treatise. Reading the book is a pleasure itself, as the poems and images so richly evoke the experience of living in this world.
Poet William Notter grew up on the plains of northeastern Colorado, and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia. Notter’s poems appear widely and he has received many honors for his work, including the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize for More Space Than Anyone Can Stand (Texas Review Press, 2002), and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Last year Notter published his poetry collection Holding Everything Down (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), which won the 2008 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, and is a finalist for the High Plains Book Award.