Craft and Clarity and Range: Foy, Bell, Pinsky, Groom

One might profitably read Night Vision, the latest collection of poems by John Foy, as a protracted argument about the plain style. The language is so bare of ornament or ostentation that when, in “Englewood,” Foy writes, “The white-throated sparrow / gives up its seven-note song,” the two compound adjectives feel almost decadent. Foy signals from the outset the deliberateness and import of these stylistic choices. The second poem of the collection, “Killing Things,” presents in the first three stanzas a series of man-made manglings: Robert Frost runs a tractor across a bird’s nest, Philip Larkin runs a mower over a hedgehog, and Richard Wilbur runs a mower over a toad. Frost’s birds perhaps make it, Larkin’s hedgehog dies without suffering, and Wilbur uses the high style to glorify the toad, as Foy points out: “He used / the words ‘ebullient’ and ‘emperies’ / to talk about the life he’d compromised.” Foy’s fourth stanza is dedicated to his own enterprise and reads in full,

You Just Have to Follow It

High summer. Afternoon. A vodka tonic
Patters with effervescent platitudes,
The lime slice shining like a small green sun.

You smell aged wood, old grass. A drop of sweat
Careens into the corner of your mouth;
You tongue it off, pricked by its salty tang.

Your backyard deck’s just high enough to look
Over your neighbor’s fence and into his yard.
His daughter sometimes noodles down her straps.

It’s hot these days: the air in certain places
Wriggles as though an invisible worm were pinned
To nothing. Sip. You’re proud of this conceit.

Another Way of Breaking the Pentameter

Let’s examine a poem by Joshua Mehigan, one published in Accepting the Disaster, his most recent collection.

FIRE SAFETY

Aluminum tank
indifferent in its place

behind a glass door
in the passageway,

like a tea urn
in a museum case;

screaming-machines
that dumbly spend each day

waiting for gas or smoke
or hands or heat,

positioned like beige land mines
overhead,

sanguine on walls,
or posted on the street

like dwarf grandfather clocks
spray-painted red;

little gray hydrant
in its warlike stance;

old fire escape,
all-weather paint job peeling,