Review of Jennifer Foerster’s Bright Raft in the Afterweather
by Eric Steineger
One of the most impressive things about Jennifer Foerster’s second collection, Bright Raft in the Afterweather, is the vantage it establishes. Foerster is of Mvskoke and European descent, and is a member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. We, the readers (quiet, engrossed observers), and we (citizens displaced by climate change) are granted front row seats for the baring of the continent, the shrines beautiful and ruined that real flesh-and-blood people once visited, and the ecosystems that long for a kindness that is not met halfway. Hoktvlwv, translated as “old woman” in Mvskoke, appears in poems throughout this collection, acting as a spirit guide to an unnamed female speaker, and to us, the readers.
The word vantage denotes point-of-view and connotes a good perch from which to appreciate the action. Many poetry collections coalesce around theme; they also tend to use the past or present tense, or alternate between the two. Foerster recognizes that in order to understand the environment and the humans who wish to inhabit it, we must consider how we got here and where we are going—in addition to where we stand now. These poems take place before, during, and after the storm.
Part I: Before the Hurricane
Part II: At the Midnight Galleries
Part III: After I Bury the Nightingale
Part IV: The Outer Bank
In this collection, we consider the delicate balance of our ecosystems, the tribes and their traditions and connection to the spirit world, the slowing down of contemporary life to enjoy love (often in remembrance), and the human-aided fracture of the Earth that, like time, only continues to deepen like Hoktvlwv’s footprints in the first poem “Old Woman and the Sea”: “Her tracks are jagged and deep.” But this collection also considers the Akashic records—the cumulative thought, emotion, and action of past, present, and future—to explore these themes. Late poet John Ashbery once described time “as an emulsion” in his poem “Soonest Mended,” which seems apt in comparison.
From the conclusion of Foerster’s “The Other Side” from Part III’s After I Bury The Nightingale:
I wander the city, searching
for what? Friends,
we knew where to find each other,
tapping the window of the winter room.
We were thinner then,
younger than the chestnut trees.
Everything has its seed
and on the other side of time.
This passage includes/refers to three different tenses, but we hardly notice it; rather, the
language (its skill with word choice—e.g. labyrinthine—and texture—e.g. slant rhyme,
double entendre), the space conceived in a mere forty-eight words, and the interiority of
the speaker feels operative here. “The Other Side” begins with “My crown. / My room. /
Surrounding snow,” which helps one appreciate, again, voice, space, and Foerster’s skill
with line variation.
It makes sense that, in a collection as generous as Bright Raft in the Afterweather, poems do not appear as a stanzaic replica of themselves. Many poems employ creative use of white space and syntax, depending on the aims of the poem. In “The Floating World,” in Part I’s Before the Hurricane, we encounter the speaker’s personal life, her keen eye that, like a photographer, captures many arresting visuals in the composition. From the beginning:
18th Street at twilight
tikis in porticoes
A painter is painting
Hunters in the Snow
beneath salt wind’s rum shades
pale blue blooms of forage
And later in the poem:
The flower shop’s gate locks and I text you
belting from streetlamps
our awkward failures
this city and its cloying fog
We will drown beneath the blue
curve of history anyway
and it won’t matter, the petals
you pinned to my dress—
Consider the scansion, contrast, and line break of “The flower shop’s gate locks and I text you /
a sonograph.” It works on many levels, and I encourage readers of this collection to isolate
passages to examine their geology—the science of the lines, the flora, and the colorful
wreckage that veins these pages—in addition to appreciating it [Afterweather] for its fusion of
place, people, and perspective.
Many poems have unexpected and rewarding approaches of the aforementioned Ps. In “Touring the Earth Gallery” from Part II’s At the Midnight Galleries, one sees a reimagined, capacious gallery, perhaps terrifying in scope or simply a reminder that “Our time period is one of / glacial isostatic adjustment.” When one hears the word gallery, he or she may think of contemporary art or walking through a museum and experiencing art of his/her predilection during normal operating hours.
That the objects in this gallery are from the living and the dead, that the title of this section includes the word Midnight, that the forecast mentioned in the poem seems a harbinger for an alternative landscape—one that is “radioactive” with possibility but also replete with the tools artists use: quill, color, and “time and materials” (after Robert Hass’s collection)—speaks to Forester’s skill with collage and, to use another title, her “angles of approach” (after Holly Iglesias’s collection).
In Native American culture, the work of many hands contributes to the growth of the village—each person with a responsibility—and with an obligation to the land, sky, and vital lines that precede and succeed the present tree. Thus, the belief system is a multivalence (to use a word that Foerster uses in her collection), and one that has nuance and definition. That Afterweather contains so much is reason enough to come back to it again and again.
Eric Steineger teaches English at Mars Hill University. He is the Managing Editor and Senior Poetry Editor of The Citron Review, while his poetry, prose, and reviews have been published in such places as The Los Angeles Review, Waxwing, Rattle: The Poets Respond, The Great Smokies Review, and in other journals. His chapbook, From a Lisbon Rooftop, explores themes from Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, and is available at Plan B Press. Occasionally, he curates poetry events for Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. He lives in Asheville with his wife and daughter.