Orbiting Bodies: Thoughts on Contemplating the Heavens

Take a moment and think of it all—this vastness that surrounds us, this universe and the universe inside us. Think of all the varieties of orbiting spheres, all the stones hurtling through this somewhere. This is what Linda Nemec Foster has done, and fortunately for us, she wrote about it too. Her chapbook Contemplating the Heavens, released by Ridgeway Press in 2001, is a sequence of sixteen, nine-line poems, each touching on some moving glimmering piece of the cosmos.

As all good poetry does, Linda Nemec Foster draws from what is vague and huge, and she specifies it, runs a fluorescent yellow highlighter right over it. In Contemplating the Heavens she capitalizes on the mysteries of the universe, on the human wonderings about our astronomical surroundings, and embodies each component of these heavens in a way that puts them in the reader’s laps. Poems like “Aurora” touch on the far-off phenomenon of space and make it intimate and close, describing how the aurora is “blowing in the dark/night over your bed:/touching your face.” The mood of each poem in this collection reflects well in shape to its appropriate heavenly body, as if each poem were a sort of representative, celestial flag. “Mars,” with its beefy lines and assertive language (like the opening phrase, “Mister, you are a lie and a hoax”) paints the Red Planet a new shade, personifying it as a veteran putting up a rugged front. And as she inverts the general conceptions the reader has of Mars as strong and mighty, she does so also with “Venus,” portraying her as a “veiled bride/whose perfume is a fine mist of acid.”

The caricatures of these extraterrestrial actors are defined even more by the chapbook’s accompanying album, composed and arranged by Steve Talaga. Released in 2006, the CD of the same name has a track for each of the sixteen poems in the chapbook, following in the sequence. The music plays with the poems, harmonizing with them in a way not at all unlike the way close siblings move and speak with each other. From the bopping, rumbling jazz stylings of “Sun” and “Mars,” to the glimmering, string-section-heavy ponder of tracks like “Stars” and “The Earth from Space,” the music on the CD coincides sweetly with the chapbook. One standout collaboration of the two has to be “Jupiter and His Moons.” As Foster describes the planet and its moons like “a father who can’t keep track of his own children,” Talaga’s music has instruments scurrying and flying off to this central driving beat. The effect this has is bold and solidifying, leaving the poem and the track breathing in unison, as if they themselves are caught in each other’s gravity.

As each actor in the universe exists on its own, it owes much to the other players. Similarly, it is only natural for the fine arts to inspire and collaborate amongst themselves. While Contemplating the Heavens works incredibly as a separate book and album, they work even better as a duet. Steve Talaga’s expert arrangements and compositions create a familial mood with Linda Nemec Foster’s poems. The result is a creation that draws of the same magnificent blood as the universe itself.

Works by Linda Nemec Foster

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.