All that gorgeous empathy

In Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke says, “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.” This love drives Northern California poet Rebecca Foust’s All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song, recent winner of the Many Mountains Moving Poetry Book Prize. Foust offers fellow feeling, empathy and warmth to people in her poems—but also protective distance. In “What Was Sacred,” the speaker visits a dying friend in the hospital: “They left us alone for the time that it took, / and the curtains were drawn for respect.” Foust extends that same care and privacy to her vulnerable subjects: women “Marrying Up,” as one poem is titled, to escape mining country, struggling children, the Allegheny Mountains. Her odes celebrate wonder without breathiness, as in “The Peripheral Becomes Crucial”: “Sometimes more is inscribed / in the chemical signature of mud / than in the Sanskrit left on the pot.”