Review of Amber Necklace from Gdansk in online review journal, North of Oxford

Reviewed by: Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

Linda Nemec Foster reiterates this real and imagined theme of yearning and self-discovery throughout the four sections of Amber Necklace from Gdańsk.
In poem after poem of sculptured landscapes of Old World and New, of Poland (before WW I) to USA of today, Linda Nemec Foster yearns for wholeness, yet knows that this severance of self the “she” (“the other self”) from the Old World will be never be found “in the New,” as in the appropriately titled poem, “Doppelgänger” she writes:
…A mere roll of the dice that I’m here
and she somewhere else
…because a simple act of birth that place me
in suburbs south of Cleveland and
not in a town across the river from Oświęcim
The last line of the poem puts the reader at a screeching, yet realistic halt:
…may we never recognize each other on street.
Is this an acceptance of harsh reality, of being born in Cleveland, Ohio “on the opposite side of the world” to first generation parents (whose grandparents left Poland) and the realism that she will never be able to experience or have lived the life of “the other self.” I believe the last line of the poem is realistic; however, within every artist/poet there is imagination; there is the “what if” question; there is the wishful desire to have that which you know you can never really have. As if, perchance, there could have been a meeting of the “other self,” that is if Fate could have allowed her to live a different life (she never knew), a life she could never truly know. Yet, the fact is she was destined to live here in Ohio, in the New. It is this longing that exists – to have known a different life, to have been given an opportunity to be a different self “other self” in this opening poem that stays with the reader especially because of the powerfully ironic last line
…may we never recognize each other on street.
Can one re-unite the two? No, never, and if we could then would we be better off not knowing what life would have been like anyway. A bit paradoxical? Absolutely! The “longing” to be someone we could never be, yet at the same time thinking we should have at least had a “chance” at it. A choice, perhaps This is the unknown, the not knowing (that can never truly be satisfied); and that which a second generation girl/woman ponders, especially when one is blessed/cursed with a creativity poetic mind. A mind that questions.
This is a book of interconnected narrative poems with an undertow of longing for a life we can never have. Therefore, the second poem, “Doppelgänger,” has set the stage for the remainder of the poems in this collection. The fact is she was born here, but her love is reflected in poems about a family she knew and a family she will never really know.
The poems roll into and out of each other with a constant pulling undertow of longing, which is never understated in her poems about people and places. Each poem beautifully written, beautifully sad, hurts the reader deeply, because there’s a void which cannot be filled. Especially evident in the poem,
“The Immigrant’s Dream” where each of the three stanzas begin with “a recurrent dream” and ends with a woman’s voice whispering two very strong final words: “You’re home.”
This wise archetypal dream woman trying to offer closure tells the immigrant “you’re home” to give the disconnected speaker peace, resolution. Yet, there really is no peace, no closure for three generations of women, who must live without a sense of true peace; and it’s not just the woman speaker, who is displayed but it is her grandparents, parents, and her own son that carries the burden of loss.
This sense of loss, in more detail, is also relevant in the poem, “Young Boy in a Tenement House, Holding the Moon.”
He is anonymous as a fairy tale.
His bare feet could be my father’s
or perhaps my son’s…
the speaker’s father and / or son’s feet, and as the poem continues it includes the boy’s mother –
his mother five flights up
keeping six kids at bay, waiting
for that basin of water…
So it is at this turning point of generational weariness that a child sent for water for an awaiting mother and a large family of siblings that the poet allows the boy to express his inner feelings. The boy in this poem uses his imagination to cope with the un-copeable and this is where Nemic Foster has the young boy’s basin become the moon. The reader knows a round basin resembles a full moon, but what is so poetically crafted here is that the boy
…smiles/ not for the camera, but to himself, as if he’s holding a captured moon
Here the “moon,” may appear subtle, but to Nemec Foster it not subtle at all, rather the skilled use and choice of the word “captured.” It is not used as a verb here, rather an adjective, and not a “capturing” moon,” but a “captured moon,” as if the child and his entire family residing in a tenement were in a “captured” state of existence, as new comers to a foreign land (America in lieu of Poland). The moon is metaphorically alone in the darkness and “captured” (involuntarily) in a gravitational orbit. Poland is now dead to him as the moon, as the “captured moon.” Captured defined is “to take into one’s possession or control by force.” Now, pushing the envelope further, the boy whispers to the moon,
and whispering to it, his breath
lost in its silver and dust:
księżyc, księżyc, latać, latać, daleko.
And before the translation, the poem is interrupted by an foreign language (Polish), not English, because the boy and his siblings, mother, and possibly his extended family (grandparents, great-grandparents) are all displaced in America, not only by their residence in a tenement house, but by language itself. Now, the last two translated lines in English, as the last to lines of this poem:
Moon, moon, fly away, fly away,
and please, take me with you.
Here, the child’s plea, “please take me with you” to my real home, because the moon can see all, Poland and America, and the child is homesick for something he cannot have.
The aforementioned poems are in the very beginning of Section I – Conjuring Up the Landscape and in continuing in that section Nemec Foster writes poems about her father learning to count in English; immigrant child at school; “The Old Neighborhood”; her mother, “The Silent One,” etc. and ends the section with the poem, “Sitting in America at the End of the Century” with these last very painful lines (both in Polish and English) addressing her grandparents (Maria and Tomasz, Zofia and Franciszek)in the poem’s last stanza:
… A distant granddaughter surrounded by cars,
longing for a language that’s more akin to damp
earth than linguistics, stuttering in a tongue
so natural to them they know what she’s trying
to say, even before the halting words
leave her lips. Bardzo mi przykro,
nie wiem. I am sorry, I know nothing.
A real page turner, so captivating that you, the reader, become engrossed with each poem, as I have; but you must continue onward with a reverent, dirge-like pace through the remaining three sections, as they will hypnotize you as well. She is allowing their voices and her voice to be heard, so you can learn of the honesty, integrity, and beauty of each lived life. These narrative-memoir poems tell the familial immigrant stories of her grandparents and parents and also Nemec Foster’s very own second-generation story of, mentally and physically, crossing the Atlantic from America to Poland and then back to America again.
Since I have elaborated in Section I, I will try to consolidate the remaining three sections, and this is not to diminish those sections, no, not at all, but in order not to make this – a too long review.
Section II – The Rivers of Past and Present; Section III- Dark Amber of Regret; & Section IV – To Smile at the Closed Mouth of Loss will keep the reader totally engaged. I will pick one poem from each section to focus upon, as briefly as I can, in order to do justice to both poet and poem.
Section II– The Rivers of Past and Present has four prose poems, with the exception of the poem, “The Two Rivers in My Story.” Once again these poems do not spare the reader their emotional empowerment, with an intense flow of prosaic images, narratives, and truths felt by a transplanted poet. America’s Cuyahoga River aligns, yet conversely misaligns with Poland’s Vistula River – just as the past aligns, yet conversely misaligns to the present, at least in Nemec Foster’s telling of rivers and time in her prosaic poem, “The Women with the Two Rivers Growing from Her Hair” (wonderful title). Here, Nemec Foster recounts a “true” story told to her by her mother about her grandmother, Maria.
…I know it’s true because my mother told me that her mother saw it with her own two eyes.
Interestingly enough, oral history imagined or true is prevalent among immigrant families and serves as a connective thread often linking one generation to the next, especially in this story of women.
Maria, my mother’s mother with green eyes who died long ago, whom I never knew, but could only imagine.
Without giving the total story away here are some lines of her grandmother’s story told by Nemec Foster’s mother to her, whereby the flow of the women of her family and the flow of rivers align and misalign with each other.
One day she decided to leave her mother, her father, all her sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends and come to the New World and live in America.
Her grandmother settled in Ohio in a boarding house near the Cuyahoga River and it took her weeks to pronounce the river’s name.
She especially loved the sound of the city’s river, Cuyahoga, even though it took her many weeks before she could even begin to pronounce it. …As if trying to will the river into her tiny bedroom on the third floor of Mrs. Okasinski’s boarding house.
The grandmother’s dream of the Vistula River in Poland, where she turns into a mermaid. A straight up metaphor, why, because oral tradition and the imagination usually go hand-in-hand.
She was a mermaid swimming in the deep, clear waters of her homeland, the Vistula River. Her legs had turned into one huge fin, her beautiful hair had become filmy seaweed. Even her green eyes had turned into the blue-white of mother-of-pearl.
Nemec Foster hits the comparisons hard: Old World – Poland vs. New World – America; Vistula River vs. Cuyahoga River; the Past vs. the Present; and then with her brilliant choice of poetic language, the Simile
– “like” for comparative purposes.
The Vistula flowed around her like scattered diamonds. For the first time since leaving Poland, she felt homesick. In the morning when she awoke, the rain was still falling, like drops of a river from the sky.
In finishing this comparative poem, there’s unification and /or a blending of the two separate entities into the one identity, separate but united in the poem’s summation:
Her long, golden hair had explicably transformed into the two rivers she loved so much: blue Vistula of the fish-maid; green Cuyahoga of the exotic song. They flowed from her head like twin cascades of the past and present, the old and the new.
And finally Nemec Foster’s heart wrenching metaphors provide hidden similarities between her grandmother and / or immigrant women and their descendants, directly and poetically equating them to river/water images:
Some say the woman disappeared into the rivers that claimed her. Some say she walked into the rain and became the rain. And some refuse to believe that a woman’s hair can change into the waters of two rivers by mere act of a strange dream. But then, they don’t know the woman.
Section III- Dark Amber of Regret succeeds II, but not with prosaic poems, rather 13 shorter poems. These poems – move the reader along the high wire of regret and longing, looking at each side Old – New, Poland – America, as if the speaker, a high wire walker were treading very carefully in a world where a fine wire-thin-line exists; and they must forever walk the path of an “examined” life with no real resolution, one always existing alongside the other. This disconnection between two world’s trying to connect is stated in the first lines of the poem “Moje Rozwiane Włosy” where the East is separated from the West:
Beyond any control of the East /West border,
Oder/Neisse line, the arbitrary demarcations
of free market and fixed economy, my hair
Here the speaker, I, uses the image of her “hair” to connect her.
At the beginning of the poem:
…my hair
my hair has become wild, electric halo that refuses…
and at the end of this poem:
…My hair, my wild hair,
wanting to be a braided rope that connects the two.
The hair image of the “I” speaker resonates back to the grandmother, Maria, and her “long, golden” braided hair (Section II, above). The speaker (probably Nemec Foster, herself) using a very womanly image of her hair is trying to connect the disconnect. Actually the braiding of three long individual strands (daughter, mother, grandmother) into one braid connects the three women together in their two distinct worlds.
I would be remiss not to state that Section III’s poems are extremely musical as a whole. Many stanzas like verses of songs binding many voices together, as if each poem the voice of an instrument, a symphony playing melodiously together. Lovely musical titles too, and poems enriched with naturalistic settings containing names and colors of flowers and trees, such as “Mazovian Willows – Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 9” (Chopin exiled from Poland); “Song of Sorrow – On Listening to Gorecki’s Third Symphony “ (written as a rhythmic Villanelle); “After the War: Purple Flowers Spilling from the Window;” etcetera. There is one very daunting poem, “Chapel of Skulls – Czermna, Poland” that does not fit the uplifting musical category of many of the others in this section. It is realistically and humanistically devastating, more funereal. I believe this poem a silent reminder to Nemec Foster that despite her families disconnect from Poland, there would be nothing more terrible then for her family to have been in Poland during WW I and WW II. Not just our own deaths, as the poem reminds us in America and Europe, but the reminder of the
…mass graves at Katyn
or the empty crematorium at Auschwitz
can prepare you for this.
Nothing can ever really prepare you for “this” meaning death.
Further, the last poem of Section III is the book’s title – “Amber Necklace from Gdańsk” and this poem echoes back to the braided hair, but this time three
strands of the past braided around my neck.
White amber of memory, gold amber of song, dark amber of regret.
So, three colors of amber as memory, song, and regret are braided appropriately, as title of this book of poems.
Section IV – This last section moves through character and place poems, but the reader is struck by the last three lines of the last poem, “Dancing with my sister.” Here the poet not only echoes back to this Section’s title – To Smile at the Closed Mouth of Loss –but concludes the book appropriately as follows:
We glow because we came from the same burnt-out dream
of second-generation immigrants and learned to smile
at the closed mouth of loss and dance, dance, dance.
Linda Nemec Foster and her sister have truly learned to smile despite loss and the reader gallops along with Linda and her sister “to the Beer Barrel Polka” with “RESPECT” for the glowing women they have become in America. In the second-generation immigrants’ fight for recognition, Linda Nemec Foster has won the braided Amber Necklace from Gdańsk glowing with three “tears (tiers) of the sun” around her neck.

Originally published by North Of Oxford

Book review of Ten Songs from Bulgaria by Romanian poet, scholar and translator Monica Manolachi.

(Cervena Barva Press, W. Somerville, MA, 2008)

Linda Nemec Foster is an American poet of Polish ancestry, who has published nine collections of poetry and lives in Michigan. Ten Songs From Bulgaria (2008) is her eighth collection, a chapbook with poems inspired by Bulgarian artist Jacko Vassilev’s black and white photography from the (post-)communist epoch(s) and which inspired Hungarian folk musician Laszlo Slomovits to compose a CD, Cry of Freedom.

Each of the ten ekphrastic poems included in the collection has ten lines and each line has about ten syllables. In them, the poet makes use of the power of the enjambment, moderate repetition and sometimes counterpoint, with the purpose of presenting a reality from elsewhere and the play between past and present, imagination and reality. Several names (Vladimir, Cristo, Stoian and Zlatio Zlatev), the symbol of the dancing bear, the reference to the Balkans and Eastern Europe highlight a geo-cultural framework specific to Bulgaria.

As well as Jacko Vassilev’s dramatic photos, Linda Nemec Foster’s poems depict people “banished from the Garden of Eden”, who find other types of Eden in surreal artistic faith and unusual music and dance. In line with Vassilev’s photos, which illustrate the life of the poor during communism and immediately after, the poems too echo aspects related to the lives of the unfortunate. Inspired by the photographer’s compassion, the poet weaves multivalent stories around moving static pictures and, in contrast with the pictorial project, she sometimes makes the personages speak their own minds. The characters of these poems vary from “he” or “she” to “they”, which conveys a sense of detachment and contemplation, or they are written in the first person singular and sometimes the “I” is combined with “they”, “you” or “she”, which transmits empathy and involvement with a “world as tangible as fog”.

One of the most powerful texts in the book is “The Dancing Bear”, written as a persona poem in which the first person singular is the chained bear, a symbol of tamed nature that breaks its chains of speechlessness by starting to address the onlookers:

Once upon a time, I did not exist

in this frozen pose. Only danced

in your dreams like a myth:

bear of elegant waltz and measured

fox-trot; bear of passionate tango

and manic jitterbug. Now look at me.

Reduced to a muzzle and chain, serenaded

by a fool with a clumsy violin. I refuse

to dance, cannot remember the basic steps.

Music of the forest stuck in my throat.

The poem starts as a fairytale – and there are many of them with and about bears in the world – but ends as a story closer to contemporary man’s attitude to otherness, be it human, animal, natural, cultural etc.  The point of dramatic change placed in the middle, “Now look at me”, signifies a boundary between myth and reality, a door between expectations and fact, between a certain cultural label and truth. It questions the artist’s gaze in a world in which we all watch and are watched and in which those portrayed can more easily talk back. The initial contrast – “I did not exist” / “Only danced” – alludes to the Western imagination of the Orient and is reinterpreted in the second part of the poem as absence, whose phenomenology is subtly instrumented with the verb “to refuse”,  the negation “cannot remember” and the adjective “stuck”. “I refuse / to dance” may stand for a response against stereotypes. Dance does not mean only waltz, fox-trot, tango or jitterbug, all of them related to the urban European and American cultures. The title of the poem reminds us of rural areas and crossroads. Moreover, dancing as a form of body art is indirectly contrasted with the art of writing as opposed to singing or speaking.

The poem is interesting from a gender perspective too. Hunting in general and hunting bears in particular have traditionally been associated with men and their relationship to nature. What Linda Nemec Foster proposes here is a feminine or queer perspective on the same relationship, given that a persona poem implies a mask. Although there is no word in the text which might suggest the bear is anything other than masculine, the fact that the poem was written by a woman casts an intriguing light. What if the dancing bear is a she-bear? Does it make any difference? Of course it does. If chaining and muzzling a she-bear means there will be no more baby bears, then the poem offers a distinct feminine or queer view on understanding and performing wilderness. The empathetic personification suits the object and subject play, in the sense that it projects a dialogic attitude to otherness. Moreover, the underlying meaning of the word “bear” as a verb and its idiomatic expressions suggest a whole complex universe in itself.

The poem also speaks about America and its wilderness, by alluding to the mythical bear portrayed by William Faulkner. It represents a return to nature, as both environmental and human, and a possible internalization of the old Ben (from The Bear, a short story included in the collection Go Down Moses) as a cultural symbol of freedom and untamed nature, here transposed in an Eastern European geographical location. Giving voice to a bear also hints at the contemporary futility of giving voice to others, when, in fact, they came equipped with a voice, but the inability of others to hear them often translates as deliberate silencing. In the bear’s refusal to dance or to sing, the poet represents a reality waiting to be discovered.


Monica Manolachi is a lecturer at the University of Bucharest, where she teaches English in the Department of Modern Languages and where she completed her doctoral thesis, Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry, in 2011. Her research interests are American, British and Caribbean literature and culture, postcolonial studies and contemporary Romanian and Eastern European literature in translation. As a poet, she has published two collections in Romanian and was awarded a prize for poetic eloquence by the American Cultural Center in April 2005. She is also a translator and editor, contributing to the multilingual literary magazine Contemporary Literary Horizon.

Originally Published by Galatea Resurrection 25, click here to view article.

Book review of Talking Diamonds

A review of Talking Diamonds, Linda Nemec Foster’s new collection of poems.

By Oriana Ivy

The typical poem in this beautiful collection by Linda Nemec Foster, her eighth book, is quiet, elegant, and wise. These poems do not shout; they whisper – about aging and dying, a mother’s frightful dementia (the mother no longer recognizes her daughter and calls her “Mom”), deformed children who are nevertheless a gift, and dead stars whose light still travels to us. They are filled with small, uncanny observations, for instance the demented mother saying “What a glorious burden” to the living room wall.

It is the poet’s gift of compassion that makes such poems not only bearable, but a pleasure to read. For instance, we learn that the mother’s own mother died when her daughter was only fifteen.

But me, I heard my mother calling
my name every day long after
we buried her . . . Always
the same voice from that dark place.
`Helen, Helen.’ Her voice so clear
as if she was in the basement
calling me down to help her fold
clean, white sheets.

This is heartbreak presented in the most intimate, quiet voice. In a later poem, just as quietly, we are told her mother was conceived to take the place of two daughters who previously died. It’s all muted colors and gray sky. A new kind of trinity presides over this volume: Mother, Daughter, and the Spirit “where everything begins and nothing ends.”

Linda Nemec Foster’s other great gift is her sensitivity to the astonishing in unlikely settings.

. . . nothing prepares you for this vision:
Our Lady of Guadalupe on Waikiki.
A blue ocean away from where she
first appeared to that dirt-poor
Indian peasant on Tepeyac Hill,
you can’t miss her shape of glorious
colors coming toward you: deep teal,
bright vermilion, bronzed gold tattooed
on the chest of a huge Mexican from Baja.
Even his back is emblazoned with her back
and you’re stunned by the accuracy
of detail; the little angel at her feet
holding a sliver of the crescent moon
as if she were a living, breathing icon.
. . .
This ocean, this beach at your feet
as if she were Boticelli’s Venus
washed ashore with the sea foam,
washed ashore for your approval.
And you tell yourself this isn’t a miracle,
only a tattoo; this isn’t anything
extraordinary, only your life

Here is a poet who is always prepared for miracles, and who recognizes the deep affinity between Venus on her shell and Our Lady on the Crescent, typical of the icons of the Black Madonna. In another unforgettable poem, “The Blind and the Lame Swim at the Y,” the transformation is even more startling:

But it’s the crippled girl
with a slash for a mouth
that amazes the water. Tiny
deformed feet that curl
like tender shells forgotten
on some deserted beach,
become the shining, sleek fins
of a mermaid’s tail.

The poem ends with a stanza of skillfully wrought wisdom: mothers will accept their handicapped children “without regret” –

Because the secret heart of every
fairy tale is locked deep within
these children. Because this heart
beats in goodness which is rarer
than perfection. Because this heart
is like water: uncaring yet
kind, transparent yet full.

Among my favorite poems is “Red Amaryllis, 1937,” honoring an art lover, a man who even in a strip joint behaves in a courtly manner:

When a black girl
with erect nipples came to dance inches from your face,
you stood up, took her hand, and began to waltz.
. . . After the waltz, you kissed her hand.
She said her name was Jasmine. Flower of night air
and moonlight, you replied.

Another favorite is “The Nature of the Beast,” with these lines about a cat bringing its offering of a nestling it killed:

But remember how it holds the gift
tenderly in its mouth, approaching
you like a child, a lover who wants
to give you the gift of its wildness.

Poetry is not the things themselves, it is in how we respond to them – quietly, lovingly, without judgment or bitterness, only with compassion and understanding, Linda Nemec Foster teaches us. In spite of heartbreak, there is beauty and grace in life. Everything can be transformed, transfigured into brilliance. In the title poem of the collection, she imagines diamonds talking

about their lives underground.
Never are they bitter or angry. Nor do they
even curse those dark
memories of suffocating black. They know
every facet of their brilliance began as mere
coal – a mere dark fist waiting
for a chance to be something
other than ordinary.

But then it turns out that nothing is merely ordinary. Simply to wake up to another day is already extraordinary, if we have the eyes to see. Linda Nemec Foster certainly has the eyes that are always ready for miracles, and the words with which to describe them. Through her, we see that life is indeed a glorious burden – with equal emphasis on “burden” and “glorious.”


The book is available from Amazon and New Issues Press. To see more about Linda Nemec Foster, I encourage readers to checkout her website.

Poet Oriana Ivy blogs about poetry at Oriana-Poetry. Her translations of Zbigniew Herbert are available at Scream Online. Some of her poems are also available. online. A powerful sequence about her Polish grandmother appears here. Her poem “My America” about discovering America for herself is available at her blog.

Originally Published by Writing the Polish Diaspora, click here to view article.

Linda Nemec Foster’s poetry collection, Talking Diamonds, sparkles with brilliance

“Talking Diamonds” proves to be a fitting title for Linda Nemec Foster’s latest collection of poetry as the poems within sparkle with brilliance.

Honored as a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2010 Book of the Year Award in Poetry, “Talking Diamonds” is arguably Foster’s strongest collection yet — quite a feat for Grand Rapids’ former poet laureate, who adds this, her ninth collection of poems, to her lengthy list of literary accomplishments.

“This was such a labor of love for me, to do this particular book,” Foster said. “When I was putting the manuscript together, I was thinking, ‘There are a lot of dark poems here — about death, my mother’s dementia.’ … Whenever I hear reactions, it makes me feel so good, because it was a challenge to put the book together, some of the poems were not easy to write.”

Although Foster rightly describes the collection as dark, the warmth of her works brings light to the darkness. The poetry here is emotional and moving, the way Lake Michigan moves, slowly and gracefully, a blend of cool swirls bearing shimmers of sunlight.

Among her best here is “Red Amaryllis, 1937,” named for the title of a painting by Georgia O’Keefe and representative of Foster’s gift for ekphrastic writing.

Written for a friend who died 15 years ago, the poem details a real-life experience in which her friend accepted an exotic dancer’s request to dance for him by taking her hand and leading her in a waltz.

The poem for which the collection was named, “Talking Diamonds,” is a pensive piece, bearing a sense of rebirth and desire to be extraordinary:

“They know every facet of their brilliance began as mere/coal — a mere dark fist waiting/for a chance to be something other than ordinary.”

In the final words of the poem, it is revealed that not just diamonds underground become greater than they are, but so do we in the human realm, who similarly wait to awaken.

Filtering through the collection are glimmers of Foster, herself. Although “Talking Diamonds” is filled with poems for people in her life and works of art that served as inspirations for her poems, we still see the artist standing beside the finished work.

“I Enter my Mother’s Dementia” explores her relationship with her mother, through mention of the present and a reflection back to 1974. “The Third Secret of Fatima” reveals her Catholic background (Foster is an Aquinas College alumna).

Another glimpse of the artist here is reminiscent of her book, “Amber Necklace from Gdansk.” We see pieces of amber scattered throughout this newest collection, a reminder of Foster’s rich, Polish heritage.

Even longtime devotees of Foster’s will close the cover of “Talking Diamonds” impressed by how sharply the local poet has honed her craft.

Her works here are exceptional and gleaming, serving as a reminder that even experts can excel beyond their own greatness.

“I chose every word. Every word is meant to be there,” Foster said.

E-mail the author of this story: [email protected]

Originally Published by The Grand Rapids Press, click here to view article. 

Review of Linda Nemec Foster’s Talking Diamonds

Talking Diamonds
Linda Nemec Foster
New Issues, 2009
Review by Jeanne Lesinski

Featuring a sprouting amaryllis bulb, a handful of seashells, and a holy card of  the Virgin and Child—all bathed in red—the cover of Talking Diamonds sets the tone for the many somber poems in this, Foster’s ninth collection. Other books by Foster, who was named the first poet laureate of Grand Rapids in 2003, include Amber Necklace from Gdansk and Ten Songs from Bulgaria.

The emotional intensity of the first 20 pages of Talking Diamonds propels the reader relentlessly forward, through poems of parental loss (“Sleeping in a Room Filled with the Past” and “I Enter My Mother’s Dementia”) and parental anxiety, then downward with the falling rain and disintegrating towers to the “Total Eclipse.” I admit to finding myself in circumstances eerily similar to those portrayed in some of these poems, but that is not the only reason they haunt me like the bassoon solo in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Foster crafts her poems well, juxtaposing  images to great effect in “Sleeping in a Room” in which a collection of shells meshes with the physical and mental souvenirs that represent “the past lives you’ve survived and left behind.”  She does the same with voices in “I Enter My Mother’s Dementia.” By alternating between the protagonist’s thoughts and artifacts of the mother’s past life and painful evidences of a diminished present, she draws the reader into the midst of this experience. Each poem grows steadily heavier as it progresses, ending in a manner very true to life.

In a handful of poems Foster explores spirituality, sometimes humorously as in “A Sign from God” or “The Tao of Junk Mail,” but at other times downplaying the dramatic for the quotidian, as in “The Third Secret of Fatima.”  The numinous appears unexpectedly for the protagonist of “Vision,” sunbathing on a Hawaiian beach. It takes the form of a man bearing a tattoo of the Virgin and Child, like a holy card, on his front and back. Suddenly, the incongruousness of this vision overwhelms the protagonist:

And you tell yourself this isn’t a miracle,

only a tattoo; this isn’t anything

extraordinary, only your life,

the crowded beach, the husband and son

waving impatiently for you to just

come on, come on, dive in.

And yet. And yet, the emotional truth rings out in this as in other poems in the collection. Where else should the miraculous happen but in everyday lives, in moments when humans are graced with the extraordinary through enhanced perception. Foster seems to invite readers  “come on, come on, dive in,” into Talking Diamonds and into life.

Originally Published by 360 Main Street, click here to view article.

Linda Nemec Foster on Verse Daily

Linda Nemec Foster received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College in Vermont. She is the author of eight collections of poetry including Living in the Fire Nest, Amber Necklace from Gdansk, and Listen to the Landscape. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including The Georgia Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, New American Writing, and North American Review. Foster’s work has also been translated and published in Europe, exhibited in art galleries, and produced for the stage. She has won awards from the Michigan Council for the Arts, ArtServe Michigan, the Arts Foundation of Michigan, the National Writer’s Voice, and the Academy of American Poets. From 2003-05 she was selected to serve as the first poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan.Other poems by Linda Nemec Foster in Verse Daily:
September 15, 2003: “After the War: Purple Flowers Spilling from the Windows” “In Poland, the land takes over everything…”

About Talking Diamonds:

“In ‘Vision,’ one of many arresting poems in Talking Diamonds, Linda Nemec Foster’s protagonist sees Our Lady of Guadalupe in an unlikely Hawaiian setting. Half-waking from reverie, “she recognizes that the Virgin is in fact tattooed, front and back, on a native man: `And you tell yourself this isn’t a miracle,’ she writes, `only a tattoo; this isn’t anything/extraordinary, only your life …’ But that is precisely what makes her new collection so compelling: from what Wordsworth called the simple produce of the common day-a child’s piano recital, a family photograph, a wretched piece of motel art-Foster exacts an energy that is, precisely, visionary, even miraculous. This is an effort so widespread in contemporary poetry as itself to seem a commonplace, and one that generally fails. Not so in Talking Diamonds, which challenges, intrigues, awes, and ultimately gratifies, poem after excellent poem.”
—Sydney Lea

“A humanist at heart, Linda Nemec Foster has demanded from her poetry an artfulness that engages ordinary life. With each new book her work has continued to mature, deepen, console, surprise, and Talking Diamonds is as wise as it is lovely.”
—Stuart Dybek

“In this luminous new book of poems, Linda Nemec Foster shows us that there are no `ordinary’ lives, that each life is meaningful ansl even magical, whether we know itor not.-The brilliance and power of Foster’s language, which has been evident in earlier volumes, is even stronger in this book.”
—Lisel Mueller

Originally Published by Verse Daily, click here to view article.

A History of the Body

Annotated by: Squier, Harriet


A mother reflects on the developing body of her unborn child, her own contribution to its development, and her hopes that her daughter will grow to cherish her body and to know the love it can hold.


Well written poem/prose piece about a mother’s love toward her unborn daughter, and about the kind of empowerment she hopes to provide her as she grows up.


First published: 1987 (Coffee House Press: Minneapolis, Minn.)

Primary Source

I Am Becoming the Woman I’ve Wanted


Papier Mache

Place Published

Watsonville, Calif




Sandra Haldeman Martz

Originally Published by NYU School of Medicine, click here to view article.