Lavish is the word that comes to mind when beholding God, Seed: Poetry & Art About the Natural World (Tebot Bach, 2010) by poet Rebecca Foust and artist Lorna Stevens. Well established in their respective mediums, Foust and Stevens’ collaboration in God, Seed is one of those felicitous combustions of text (forty-three poems) and illustration (thirty full-color images) that result in a brilliant hothouse hybrid.
Readers should prepare themselves for sensory overload if not an outright short-circuit when experiencing a two-page spread of, say, Stevens’ lush eye-popping watercolor of a parsimmon opposite Foust’s sensual accompanying poem, “Parsimmons” (“ … rich river pudding, plush and pulp, / soft-slide swallow delight / and sweet, sweet”).
Conversely, later on, we are chilled to the bone by Stevens’ austere black brushwork depicting galloping bison that mimics the timeless mysteries of a prehistoric cave drawing. Foust’s chastising poem is “Last Bison Gone” (“We love what we love / in the scientific way, efficient, empiric, / vicious, too much …). Thus are the contrasting poles of God, Seed established: rapturous pleasure in nature’s bounty on the one hand, while, on the other, rapacious misuse and abuse of all that humanity surveys.
Rebecca Foust’s poetry has always struck at the heart of hard truths. Her first two tough-minded chapbooks (consecutive winners of the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize in 2007 and 2008) were reviewed favorably in our online pages. Dark Card, Foust’s debut, shook a righteous fist at doctors and gods alike for the plight of her son, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Mom’s Canoe, the follow-up, bracingly recaptured the poet’s own childhood growing up in the depressed strip-mining region of western Pennsylvania.
Although ostensibly casting a wider impersonal net in God, Seed, it is a testament to Foust’s raw unflinching truth-telling that a poem like “Frog”—about genetically mutated amphibians in a PCB-poisoned pond—spirals instead toward the son whom we remember from Dark Card:
I dreamt of my son,
his genes expressed
not as autism, but as
four thumbs on two
and I want to blame
someone. I want
to drain that pond.
God, Seed respects and encourages full immersion in the world—politically and personally—an attainable if too often lost connection to our surroundings. The poem “Now,” for instance, erases all borders between our bodies and nature’s enraptured seasonal rebirth: “… places in the body’s uncharted waters, new worlds / lying green and deep off winter’s bow // and now, spring. Bone-ache thaw, wind sough / through snow-scoured woods, bud swell …”
And yet, lest we fall prey to the ecstasy of hubris, the final poem in Foust and Stevens’ God, Seed, “Perennial,” gives nature the last word by writing us out of the picture altogether: “When you’re gone, it won’t matter to the musk rose / twining the old trellis over the eaves. Willow / will continue to pour her yellow-green waterfall // next to forsythia, one half-tone better on the scale / of bright …”