Bob Foster
A long time ago, ages and ages ago, and well before my time, there was a bookstore called Midnight Special at which poets gathered (I think) to read and critique and maybe also perform their work. Then they moved to the Church in Ocean Park and began the tradition of meeting on Saturdays.  It was so intimidating to walk into that church five minutes late and gingerly head toward the high stage where a big reverential circle had formed to worship with the lords and ladies of Parnassus.  This is where I first got to know Bob Foster. Eventually many of the poets dropped out or found a smarter set, but an eccentric hardcore remained, and this group moved once again: to Beyond Baroque, where through thick and thin it’s hung on for the last sixteen years.

Bob and I facilitate. We are very different. He has a background in acting, directing, and making documentary films from the 1940s all the way to the 1980s. Eventually he settled on poetry, which to him (as a practitioner) is a more satisfying art form than theatre or film. My background couldn’t be more different. I studied poetry in college with Kenneth Koch but didn’t seriously write it until my mid-thirties, and I came to it after a false start with short-stories.

We sit and the format is predictable and very satisfying. We follow the “strict Iowa method” of not allowing the poet to speak to defend or explain or argue about his or her work. Even though we are different, we never contradict each other; instead, we complement each other. ComplEment.  At times we also “compliment” each other. But it’s not a mutual admiration society by any means. We speak our minds. We are tactful but real. We are NOT of the hyper-critical brutal old school.

When I asked Bob in a Facebook Live interview whether he wanted to say something about his book, his answer was: “Well, of course. It’s a sensational thing. It’s a result of twenty-six years of everybody putting in their words and me throwing most of them out. My book is the result of the workshop; it is not just my work.” It’s in this communitarian spirit that Bob wants us to think about his collection.
Bob Foster is a literary phenomenon. Many people start writing late in life, some very late, but Bob, being the crusty, highly self-critical artist that he is, has NEVER been satisfied with greeting-card style poems or poems that are just about THIS IS WHAT I DID TODAY AND YOU ARE GOING TO LISTEN.  There is an obsessive rigor and a meticulousness about his method, one result of which is that for him, poems are never genuinely finished (as the saying goes) only abandoned. He does not want you to think of these pieces as 100% complete. He’s like that character in THE PLAGUE who spends his whole life polishing one sentence. Towards the end of that novel, the man (Joseph Grand) announces that he is almost satisfied but not nearly enough to declare his sentence truly finished. That’s Bob. He would like to spend another thirty years on these poems, but I told him, “Think of this book as a very solid draft, and then keep on working and refining and polishing as you wish, until you sense you are beginning to approach your ideal.  And maybe—whether as an audience or creators of our own work—that’s the best deal any of us can ask for.”

To a Cherrystone Clam

Rounded blade firmly inserted,
gently I pry your shell open, salivate
at your innocent body,
moist, slippery.

Mouth to edge,
I suck you in whole and alive,
tongue you in circles for a whirl of ambrosia.

A gulp of Adam’s apple
and you’re swallowed whole, unchewed:
Nude Descending Esophagus.

What is left for us now?
My wish is to lick to a polished gleam
your inner shell

        that I was the first to open   

 2019 Bob Foster
Bob Foster was a Featured Poet at the February 2019 Second Sunday Poetry Series