Thursday, January 28, 2016

Paradise Drive

According to the Marin Independent Journal, poet Rebecca Foust studied sonnets intensely for two years before writing Paradise Drive, and even wrote her grocery lists in sonnet form for practice.  Published in 2015, this collection features 80 contemporary sonnets, and won the Press 53 Award for Poetry.

What is a sonnet?  Truthfully, I have not thought about sonnets in years, and had to refresh my memory with some quick, online searches.  Simply put, a sonnet is a song.  In terms of structure, a sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter. The two basic sonnet forms are the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean (from  Paradise Drive features modern sonnets that tell the story of Pilgrim, the narrator and persona of these poems.  I may as well define Pilgrim as well.  A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place. Often this is a physical journey to some place of special and/or religious significance (definition from Wikipedia).  It can also refer to a metaphorical journey.  This is an apt description of the persona in Paradise Drive, Pilgrim, who has traveled from Altoona, PA to Marin County, CA, and is now on a different sort of journey.

This collection of work is introduced by Tom Lombardo, the Press 53 Poetry Series Editor.  The first sonnet in Paradise Drive is titled Paradise Drive.  It describes the colors and physical beauty of Marin County, of Phoenix Lake and Mt. Tam, a natural paradise.  In the next poem, though, we meet Pilgrim, and we feel the angst.  She lives in a large house, and her children are gone; she is an empty-nester. (Hopefully, Rebecca Foust does not hate this term; I'm not sure how I feel about this term; my kids are not living at home right now, although my college-age daughter, my youngest, is a freshman in college, and comes home during breaks.)

In Cocktail Party (and also in Another Party, Another Bathroom), Pilgrim describes being at a party and escaping to the bathroom so that she can read in peace; books and reading provide solace from the surrounding superficiality, and indicate Pilgrim's quest, for something deeper.  These sonnets are humorous and intelligent.  Party Etiquette (1. Remain Upbeat and Polite) has a sardonic tone, in contrast to the "Tupperware optimistic" of PTA moms.  In the sonnet, The Quest, Pilgrim searches for something more elusive, "Maybe the chance to do an angstrom of good, make beauty or protest or laughter". At this stage in her life, Pilgrim does not want or need things.  She has done well financially and is comfortable.  Pilgrim cares about her inner life, and she wants her time to be valuable and meaningful, not frivolous.  In Party On, she laments "the fear of falling in love with it all", because she is content but doesn't want to become complacent--she wants something deeper and more meaningful. 

While reading this collection, I wondered if the book was autobiographical.  I found out (in the same Marin Independent Journal article referred to above) that the book is semi-autobiographical; Rebecca Foust says that 60% of it is about her, and the other 40% is "wildly" made up.  Unfortunately, the suicides of three Marin women were real. These tragic deaths inspired the poet's work, at least in part.

Over the course of several days and evenings, I read these beautiful, haunting sonnets, using a cloth butterfly as a makeshift bookmark.  Rebecca Foust succeeds in achieving what Pilgrim in the book sets out to do: to find a deeper meaning or purpose, precisely through her creative work and fulfillment as a poet.  The Notes in the back are interesting and shed more light on the background and content of these sonnets.  Rebecca Foust has certainly mastered the sonnet as a form of poetry, as a form of art.  Paradise Drive made me think about many things, and about sonnets, in a general sense.  I wondered if I still had my copy of The Sonnets by Shakespeare.  As you can see in the photo below, I found my copy, in a bookshelf.

Have you ever written a sonnet, maybe in school?  It's not an easy feat. (As we used to say in French class, c'est difficile!)  I've attempted to write a sonnet (Shakespearean), below, about Paradise Drive (which I will edit further), which will be best understood by someone who has also read the book.

Ode to Paradise Drive

Rebecca Foust's Pilgrim, like Anne Bradstreet
An idealist, an eloquent Persona
In sonnets, the poet's chosen choice
Animate Pilgrim's strong, vibrant voice.

Subjects are diverse--her "asparagus" son,
The Seven Deadly Sins (Overheard at the Party)
I read about Greed, Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath,
Gluttony, and Sloth, I read about Dogs and Loyalty.

Pilgrim has a lot to say, that's no jive
She's risen above her Altoona past
But riches alone are not enough
Despair hovers (hidden), alongside perfection.

Life is just a party, but parties weren't meant to last
Pilgrim's quest is deep, meaningful, and vast.


Thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this book tour.  For additional reviews and features, please visit the other stops on this tour for Paradise Drive.  I've linked this review to Serena's 2016 Poetry Challenge.  As always, your comments are welcomed!


  1. Wow, that's stunning. I've tried to write sonnets many times and failed. I think I need to read more of them. I love the sonnet's sounds though. Rebecca and Moira Egan are the only poets I know that have written collections of sonnets. I am deficient in this regard.

    Thank you so much for being on the blog tour. I love this post! I'm glad you were inspired to write your own sonnet.

  2. Thank you for your (exceptionally) kind comment, Serena. I enjoyed reading this collection of sonnets as you can tell!

  3. Amazing, Suko. Congrats on the review and the sonnet!

    1. Oh, Harvee, my attempt is clumsy! But thank you for being kind. 😊

  4. Wow! That's good. Maybe you should write a book. I'd read it for sure!

    I read this book and enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you, Vicki! I hope adorable Desi is adjusting well. :)

  5. So glad you enjoyed this book of sonnets. I've never written a sonnet, but I sometimes like to try writing poems, and such. I do that mostly just to see what lingers in the Shadows of my Mind.

  6. It would be so wonderful if nextvyeR hundreds of book blogs all over the world could observe Internstional Holocaust Memorial Day

  7. That Sonnet is so well written Suko. I could not even come close to writing anything like that.

    I read need to read more modern poetry.

    As Sonnets can be taken in small bits, they seem like a good place to start. I should give some a try.

  8. Thank you for sharing your sonnet. I am not too familiar with that form of writing. This books sounds like it has a lot of depth to it. Thanks for sharing your great review.

  9. Oh my, I could never be as creative as you. Excellent job.

  10. I will admit, I haven't read a sonnet since I was in school. I'm glad you defined it for us, as I know it is a form of poetry, but I couldn't remember exactly what it is! This book of sonnets sounds intriguing. I especially identify with the woman who escapes to read during a party . . . I used to do that when I was younger to escape family parties at times . .. especially if the family was in criticism mode. Reading always cheered me up and than I was back again. Unfortunately with kids, I can't do that anymore! Have a great weekend!

  11. I appreciate the supportive comments about my attempt to write a sonnet about Paradise Drive. Thanks for the other comments as well!

  12. A wonderful review and with a sonnet of your own! Now that's fantastic!

  13. Wonderful post Susan! I love that you included a sonnet of your own, it's beautiful.
    I'm not sure how I feel about the term empty-nester myself. I think mainly because it just sounds depressing.
    Enjoy your weekend!

  14. I am glad that you enjoyed this one so much!! Wonderful review!

  15. Intrigued by this being 60% semi-autobiographical.

    Not something I have read since I was at school, at the time sonnets didn't appeal to me. However older and hopefully wiser I did enjoy your offering.

  16. I just read a post on Keats by Emma at Book Around The Corner, and now your lovely post on sonnets. I am not an avid reading of poetry, but I do like to be more informed of the poets and styles. Imagine writing grocery lists in sonnet form! A novel I know of, in sonnet form, is by Vikram Seth: Golden Gate Bridge. You may enjoy it, too.

  17. What a brilliant review, Suko. I am glad you enjoyed Paradise Drive. I did too. I liked your sonnet. You capture the book in it so well! I don't know if I ever tried to write a sonnet myself. I'm sure I must have when we studied poetry in school.

    1. Thank you, Literary Feline! I did try to include various themes or aspects of the sonnets in my sonnet. I appreciate your visit and comment.

  18. Sonnets are not really my thing but well done. I am loving the butterfly :D



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