By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Ina Coolbrith palled around San Francisco with the likes of Mark Twain, Jack London and Bret Harte. Rebecca Foust hangs out with PTA moms. Coolbrith was a denizen of the 19th century. Foust is alive and well right here in the 21st century. Coolbrith was a romantic. Foust is wary.
Both are California poets who have made the San Francisco Bay Area their home and subject.
California Poet Rebecca Foust: Sonnets for the Suburbs
With her latest book of poetry, Paradise Drive, just published, Foust takes the age-old sonnet to new heights – and lows – as she bends and reshapes the form to skewer the upscale moms (herself included) of suburban Marin county:
Everything was plu-perfect, gosh-darn-it
till Pilgrim’s kid got tagged autistic
And the PTA moms froze her out . . . .
. . . . where to find
the manual that tells how to respond
to the loved child who from his snug bed
whispers, I wish I were dead, Mom?
California Poet Ina Coolbrith: Post-Gold Rush
Here’s a stanza from Coolbrith — very 19th century and a very much in contrast to Foust’s edgy, thoroughly 21st century voice.
And I could kiss, with longing wild,
Earth’s dear brown bosom, loved so much,
A grass-blade fanned across my hand,
Would thrill me like a lover’s touch.
We have Aleta George to thank for bringing Ina Coolbrith out of the dustbin of history. The poet has been the object of George’s patient, passionate research for some years. And now finally, her biography, Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate, is published and out there.
“Paradise Drive: Poems,” by Rebecca Foust, Press 53, 2015, $14.95, paper.
“Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate,” by Aleta George, Shifting Plates Press, 2015, $19.95, paper.
More California writers at “Armistead Maupin: The Man Who Wrote the Quintessential San Francisco Novel on a Newspaper Deadline,” “Forgiveness is Tough — Atonement Even Tougher” and “Gary Kamiya — A Fun Guy Sings a Love Song to San Francisco.”