There's a lustrous assurance to Forrest Gander's poems, as if each one were a solution to a problem the poet had worked out before he wrote a word. With his third book, Science & Steepleflower
, Gander also proves that he is among the most gifted and accomplished poets of his generation. The collection is remarkable for its mixture of forms and sheer immediacy. And the titles alone are proof of the author's philosophical ambition--there's "Duration and Simultaneity," "The History of Manifest Destiny," and "Deflection Toward the Relative Minor":
But the clarity
of the word "is"
is a deception.
Often Gander uses the equivalent of a wide-angle lens to examine the connection between the subject and its context. "Exhaustible Appearance," written in response to a photograph, begins: "Around the burning barn, stationary objects seem to stream. / Scrub brush, twigs in sinople dirt, dry weeds, / puffballs among scattered breccia and chert." Yes, the vocabulary is rather recondite. But as R.P. Blackmur pointed out in a famous essay on Wallace Stevens, a phrase like "the moonlight fubbed the girandoles" is perfectly comprehensible if you have a dictionary at hand. And in Gander's case, his esoteric lexicon draws attention not only to itself but to the hardscrabble landscape it describes. This is reality, he seems to be saying--even if you have to look it up. --Mark Rudman
From Publishers Weekly
Slowly pushing narrative poems to the linguistic breaking point, this ambitious, erudite fourth collection builds on the achievement of Gander's Deeds of Utmost Kindness (1994). The more intimate first person of earlier collections here largely gives way to a juxtaposition radically different vocabulariesAof geology, physics, entomology; the vernacular of farmers and truckers; of sexual desireAas Gander's speakers map the varying cages of human consciousness, turning to the pleasures of the physical (and gendered) world for respite: "Can you smell/ where analyses end, the orchard/ oriole begins? Slap her breasts lightly/ to see them quiver./ Delighting in this." Gander has consistently sought a current vocabulary for erotic poetry, but is also after larger game, contending with a broad range of historical moments. "The History of Manifest Destiny" (to pick one example from a section of "History" poems), penetratingly renders the everyday brutality of colonialism through the voice of explorer George Vancouver. At other points, such verbal channeling leads to archaic or syntactic opacity, as in a series of "Meditative[s]" and "Geometric Losses." But on the whole, Gander's is a lyrical and rigorous aesthetic that resolutely confronts the impassable screen of individual mind: "the brightest dark and darkest dark/ open huge their mouths. There is a disturbance like a kiss through which cognition disappears."
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