Forrest Gander

I reviewed Forrest Gander’s recent book, Twice Alive, for LA Review of Books recently. LARB is one of the few places that prints in-depth reviews, more than just a quick scan.  You can read the review here.

And here is a poem from the book that appeared in the New Yorker. It’s a complex poem that captures the brutal but not hopeless aftermath of the fires in Sonoma:

Post Fire Forest

Shadows of shadows without canopy,
phalanxes of carbonized trunks and
snags, their inner momentum shorted out.
They surround us in early morning
like plutonic pillars, like mute clairvoyants
leading a Sursum Corda, like the excrescence
of some long slaughter. All that moves
is mist lifting, too indistinct to be called
ghostly, from scorched filamental
layers of rain-moistened earth. What
remains of the forest takes place
in the exclamatory mode. Cindered
utterances in a tongue from which
everything trivial has been volatilized,
everything trivial to fire. In a notch,
between near hills stubbled
with black paroxysm, we spot
a familiar sun, liquid glass globed
at the blowpipe’s tip. If this landscape
is dreaming, it must dream itself awake.

You have, everyone notes, a rare talent
for happiness. I wonder how
to value that, walking through wreckage.
On the second day, a black-backed
woodpecker answers your call, but we
search until twilight without finding it.

Poem and more poetry

I love that expression “a day late and a dollar early” although I’m not quite sure what it means. In any case, I’m a day late with today’s Monday poem because I’ve been helping with the book launch for the Community of Writers 50th Anniversary poetry anthology, Why to These Rocks.

That event will be a virtual reading on March 11, with Forrest Gander, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Greg Pardlo, Evie Shockley and others, each reading a poem from the anthology. I’ll be emcee. It will be live on March 11 at 6:30 pm and  you can register here. I think it will be an extraordinary event.

In any case, I am including a poem here that didn’t make it into the anthology, but one that I think captures some of the spirit of the Community:

Temblago

When Galway gets up to pee in the night he finds Temblago,
an imaginary place somewhere in France
that doesn’t exist anymore, a small country, rocky,
whose people, also called Temblago, are so
tenacious, the word has come to mean holding fast,
the way a piton clings to rock. When I get up,
I find one more mosquito bite in the soft indentation
of the inner arm. David says that insects are fantastic
that their name, “in sections” derives from how they are made,
many tiny sections, how even the tiniest insect, even a mite
has the same organs we do: a mouth, an anus,
reproductive organs, a digestive tract. We should think
about that instead of swatting it. He shows us an antlion,
a mysterious, armadillo-like bug with the miniature claws
of a dust-colored lobster, how it digs holes in the friable floor
of the forest, the grains at the exact angle of repose,
so when an ant falls in, it can’t scramble out; its frantic
legs alert the antlion who grabs it and devours it.
He demonstrates, dropping a carpenter ant into a thumb-sized depression.
We see the antlion’s claws grab hold. David scoops up
the tiny antlion and it’s prey, lets the ant go,
and holds the antlion in his palm, before dropping it
back in its hole. Antlions have a hard time, he says,
their metabolism is slow and very few ants
fall into their holes. They reproduce painfully slowly,
they turn have their chitonous into gossamer.
So I think about being nicer to insects, but still
I swatted the one that landed on me in the hammock,
just when my eyes were beginning to close, because
it was starting to suck my blood and that really seemed
like an act of insect aggression. Brenda says
she’s been trying to pin Bob down
about the wildflower walk, and I think
what that must be like, trying to pin Bob down, Continue reading “Poem and more poetry”

The exemplary sentence

I’ve been reading a slim novel by Forrest Gander called A Friend. It’s a novel in three parts that closely parallels a real life event. The part told by the lover, Sarah, is made up of mostly one-line statements about her lover and her grief at his death. Here are a few samples:

“The first man I went down on. You tasted like well water.”

“When you opened my shirt, you stepped back and said, They must be jealous of each other.”

“The red-bellied woodpecker swerves over the primroses and claps itself to the crab apple trunck as if a magnet had drawn it. In dreams, that’s how I come to you.”

“Not seeing the cup in the bathroom, you brought me a mouthful of water in your mouth.”

“You do not age. Someone else will watch me grow old.”

There are many others I could quote. The way they form a portrait of the beloved, the relationship, the grief, is extraordinary. And the short, final section is as gorgeous an aria of vulnerability and connectedness as I’ve ever read.

Another Neruda translation?

“It’s true, I’ve been caught in print several times saying, ‘The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.'” This sentence opens Forrest Gander’s introduction to Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, from Copper Canyon Press. He then goes onto explain how these late poems were discovered, and their quality convinced him to undertake the project of translating them. Here’s one from the book:

9

shoes“Don’t be vain,” someone had scrawled
on my wall.
I don’t recognize
the script or hand of
whoever left that line
in the kitchen, No one I invited, clearly.
He came in from the roof.
So who am I
Supposed to answer? The wind.
Listen to me, wind.
For many years
the vainest
have tossed in my face
their own vanities,
that is, they show me the door
I open at night, the book
I write,
the bed
that waits to receive me,
the house I build, Continue reading “Another Neruda translation?”

Haiku by whom?

Recently, there was a literary scandal when a poem by Yi Fen Chu, chosen for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2015, turned out to be written by Michael Hudson, who said the poem had been rejected 40 times when submitted under his own name; he then got the idea of the Yi Fen Chu alias. Under that name, Prairie Schooner accepted the poem and it made it to the “best” volume. It’s pseudonymity highlighted the current literary bias towards publishing minority, disenfranchised, or foreign writers.

yasusadaIn the discussion, an older, more complex work came up: the two volumes, one of letters, one of poetry, allegedly by a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima, Akiri Yasusada, whose family was devastated by the blast.

After high profile reviews and excerpts from the volumes, his identity turned out to be the biggest literary fraud since Thomas Chatterton’s impersonation of Thomas Rowley, an imaginary monk of the 15th century, complete with fragments on parchment. But was it a fraud, or a construct designed to be discovered? Continue reading “Haiku by whom?”

Thinking about poetry

Sometimes I just get tired of poetry altogether and need a break. I had a period like that this month–no writiing, reading nothing that seemed worth the trouble. Then I went to see the wonderful claymation film: Shaun the Sheep Movie. It made me laugh out loud, restored my good spirits and opened me to whatever poem might find me next, which was this one, from a sequence about the end of a long drought.

redstaretmuddy boots
lined up inside
the barn door
cows miserable
in the lee
of the hill
it’s all I do
now he said–
holding the bucket
in one hand
stripping tit
with the other–
and I know each
one by its humid
eye–the ground
outside plopping
it’s deafening–say
what? say–cow
cocking an ear–the rain’s
falling pretty
healthy it
smells like
heaven in here

from Redstart
by Forrest Gander and John Kinsella

Continue reading “Thinking about poetry”

Besmirl Brigham

This is to me a difficult pseudonym for Bess Miller (Moore) Brigham, a poet who opted to spell her name phonetically. instead of Bess Miller Brigham, she used the more colloquial “Besmilr” because it was closer to the way people spoke in Arkansas, where she mostly lived.

I found this poem, describing what happened to a poisonous water moccasin (also called cottonmouth) after a tornado, in a book of essays by Forrest Gander. The syntax and typography are a little difficult, a little tornado wracked, but the image of the snake’s fangs embedded in its own body is pretty vivid:

moccasinHeaved From the Earth

after the tornado, a dead moccasin
nailed to the pole
boards scattered across a pasture Continue reading “Besmirl Brigham”

Coral Bracho

Coral Bracho 7It’s not quite Monday, but I’ve been reading Forrest Gander’s splendid translations of Coral Bracho, a Mexican poet. The book is worth reading just for the introduction, but the poems are, well, rapturous might be the adjective I’m looking for.  Here’s a short sample, in Spanish and English:

En la entraña del tiempo

El tiempo cede
y entreabre
su delicada profundidad. (puertas
que unas a otras se protegen; que unas en otras entran;
huellashuellas,
rastro de mar.) Un otoño
de leños y hojarascas. En su fondo: Continue reading “Coral Bracho”

No there there, a short rant

I am taking a class on prosody, and yesterday, Gertrude Stein and her work came up in conjunction with form.  It led me to reflect on her and my reaction against words separated from meaning.

490px-GertrudeSteinFrom 1940-1944, while other Jews in France were being systematically ferreted out and deported to camps, Gertrude Stein lived in cosseted comfort. She was an apologist and translator for Marshal Pétain and his Vichy government, and had publicly supported Franco in the 30’s. No amount of revisiting of Stein and her views can change that fact that during her years in France during World War II she never distressed or disturbed herself in any way about the horrors around her. Stein was an extraordinarily privileged woman with large influence; she never raised a dime or a word in defense of the persecuted. Continue reading “No there there, a short rant”