Necessary Stranger by Graham Foust. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2007.
65 pages, $12.95. ISBN:
Reviewed by Kristina Marie Darling
In his most recent volume of poems, Necessary Stranger, Graham Foust juxtaposes dark humor with graveyards, groceries, and online chat rooms, a combination that proves striking. Taking the form of spare, lyrical meditations on American culture, the book often explores the role of technology in shaping everyday life, hinting that such progress merely fosters a retreat into oneself. Especially compelling
in their pairing of dissimilar types of rhetoric, Foust’s poems convey the sense of escapism through graceful shifts in tone and register, dazzling the reader with evocative images all the while.
While exploring these themes, the poems in Necessary Stranger are impressive in their pairing of high diction with “Number One Hit Songs,” “Google,” and “Student Loans.” Often using mock-melancholy to
depict various aspects of popular ephemera, Foust creates fascinating incongruities between form and content throughout the book. His poem “Barest Gist” exemplifies this trend, combining images conformity with the melodramatic tone of social alienation. He writes, for example:
…we believable slaves
I move around
There are acres ever through me
flags refuse. (7)
In this passage, Foust begins by presenting the reader with “believable slaves” blinking back at the day, ultimately situating the speaker within the category. By transitioning to images that suggest the narrator’s uniqueness—of which his “many-cornered/heart” is one example—the work parodies the high value placed on individuality within American life. Through his juxtaposition of slang words with
more affected phrases like “There are acres ever through me,” Foust dramatizes this persistent belief in uniqueness within a culture of conformity, hinting at both its irresistibility and its absurdity throughout the collection.
The poems in the collection about chat rooms and web searches often incorporate these themes, suggesting that such new technologies foster both further conformity and a retreat into the self. Frequently juxtaposing novel conveniences with age-old cultural values, Foust’s interest in the social dynamics created by such advancements proves at once compelling and darkly humorous. He writes in a piece called “Interstate Eighty,” for instance:
Would you look at those trucks
of trucks—they’re only facts. We’ve years
of brightest cold and fewer roads.
Don’t yet be amazing. There’s such a thing
as sentimental peril, you’ll see. One needs only
a few songs, really. There’s no beginning to decay. (12)
Invoking “trucks/of trucks” in addition to the “TV’s thick with burial” and “music/to be in the movies to” described earlier in the book, Foust implies that such advancements often do little to change longstanding societal ideals. Through such phrases as “one needs only a few songs, really,” the poem, like others in the collection, suggests that although surface presentation may change, individualism
continues to exist alongside conventionality in American culture. “Interstate Eighty,” like other poems in the book, pairs astute observations on everyday life with evocative imagery, proving “oddly
Necessary Stranger is a compelling read, in which Graham Foust’s capacity for both lyricism and social commentary is impressive. Five stars.