The Maybe-Bird by Jennifer Elise Foerster
The Maybe-Bird marks Jennifer Elise Foerster as a visionary voice in contemporary poetry. Through a spiraling sequence of lyric poems, a cast of voices—oracles, ghosts, water—speaks to a long history of genocide, displacement, and ecological devastation. Foerster uses new poetic forms and a highly conceptual framework to build these poems from myth, memory, and historical document, resurfacing Mvskoke language and story on the palimpsest of Southeastern U.S. history. Foerster leads us on a journey through the visible and invisible landscapes of our human story, through what feels like multiple lifetimes, where we hear the language of the shifting weather, and stand on the haunted edge of the world.
Sometimes instructions return like these,
sea turtles rising from extinction,
dragging their gravid shells under moonlight
as if there were still children in the stars
who were willing to return to us.
To help us know ourselves again, Jennifer Foerster has made a poem that is also a story, drawn from the Myskoke language into an intricate, but unfailingly buoyant, poetic net. Repeating lines in The Maybe-Bird act as sonic re-beginnings. They launch attempts to know a world in which we are excrutiatingly unmoored creatures. Their recurring music helps us bear the book’s hard truths for and with each other: “The passage into the interior / is riddled with masks, skins shed, hung for trade.” How is the depth held by Foerster with such ease, reminding us what language can hold, even without explaining, or giving reasons why? I am astonished: I can say “we” again with new confidence because of the undergoing this book asks us to do together, a journey made possible by the indigenous people of all of the Americas, and now made traceable by all readers willing to lend a breath. If our future as a human race can exist, I believe we can find out how to know it here. -Kaite Peterson
In The Maybe-Bird, Jennifer Elise Foerster knits language to create new and haunting ways of seeing and being in the world. These compelling and unsettling poems weave the past with our uncertain future. At turns the speaker loses faith in poems and narratives, but I trust the urgency in that doubt and that pulled me through this wonder-filled book. I’m grateful for the gift of The Maybe-Bird. - Sean Hill
Jennifer Elise Foerster received her PhD in English and Literary Arts at the University of Denver and her MFA from the Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and is an alumna of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford. Jennifer is the author of Leaving Tulsa (2013) and Bright Raft in the Afterweather (2018), both published by the University of Arizona Press. Foerster grew up living internationally, is of European (German/Dutch) and Mvskoke descent, and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. She lives in San Francisco.