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.

You can take the girl out of New York…

imagebut even though I’ve now lived about two-thirds of my life in California, I still relate to the world through a New Yorker’s lens, always searching for the fastest route, the shortest line, the way to keep moving, even when I’m not in a rush and have plenty of time. I also love malicious commentary (when it’s witty and apposite), black humor, and thoughtful analysis.

So I still read the New Yorker, even though mostly months late. And as I haven’t been writing lately, I especially appreciated this little paragraph by Adam Gopnik, writing about Paul McCartney: Continue reading “You can take the girl out of New York…”

The tortures of the damned

imagesThe New Yorker arrives with relentless regularity even though our subscription expired in July. This week, there are excerpts from a diary Flannery O’Connor kept in when she was in her twenties, recently accepted to the Iowa Workshop. My first reaction was indignation. Clearly these were the private struggles of a young, truly spiritual woman and NOT MEANT TO BE READ by anyone else. Why are they here? And why did they use such an unflattering photo? Poor Flannery. Continue reading “The tortures of the damned”

In praise of TV

If you’re a New Yorker subscriber, you know how relentlessly the weekly magazine arrives. Unread copies piling up around the house could replace the movie image of pages of the calendar flipping by to show elapsed time. But then comes a long plane ride and six or eight unread copies go into my carry on to be consumed like chocolates from a box. Continue reading “In praise of TV”

You are what you read

Having a cup of tea early Saturday morning at a bakery in Venice (CA), a couple with a young son were sitting at the table next to me.  The parents were reading, the boy–maybe 5 or 7 years old–was playing a math game on a PDA.  I looked up when the boy was asking for help figuring out what 6 minus 2 was.  The father put down his magazine, and started working with the various cups and plates on the table to make the numbers real. I noticed that he was reading the very article in the New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer I had just finished the day before on the plane, about the Darwinian value of altruism. The article had a cartoon of leaf cutter ants and their bright green leaves across the two-page spread that made it recognizable from a distance, and he and his (I assume) wife discussed it once the mystery of 6-2 was resolved.

It made me reflect on how a certain number of people around the same period of time might be reading and thinking about the survival value of selflessness–and just what selfish and selfless might mean for us and for other species.  There’s a kind of awesome power in that, the ability of a well-written article in a popular medium to support a current of thought and discussion across a broad swath of disparate people. Continue reading “You are what you read”

Submitting my work

I’ve had a very ambivalent relationship to submitting poetry to magazines for publication. I don’t read small literary magazines, so why submit to them? And if you pay the reading fee to enter a contest, they just pile up unread on the shelf, an unpleasant reminder of the problems of publication.

On the other hand, a friend recently had a poem of his published in the New Yorker, which I do read, and said he simply submitted it online.  Of course, he studied with the current poetry editor, so that helps. But I decided to submit one.

The online submission page said something like “due to the volume of submissions, it may take three or four months for us to respond.” However, I received a rejection note the very next day. I guess they really didn’t like it. But undaunted, I am printing it here.

In Praise of Research

Here’s to the researcher’s neck arched over his microscope
with the single-mindedness of a horse bent to its oats
hour after year in the bright box of the lab
decoding the origin of a sub-family of mosquito
that only lives sealed in the London underground.
Or Marie Curie burning her hands over and over
in the luminous blue-green glow of the radium
she extracted before anyone knew it was there
or what it could do.
Or the scholar holed up in the library carrel
working on the meaning of the “the.”

Quinine, x-rays, meaning itself, the way the world
is constructed of waves and particles and a something else
we can’t agree on, that time stretches and light bends,
and like horses in traces
impelled by the will of our kind
we bend our necks to it
as hungry for knowledge
as for grain from a loving hand.

*                      *                         *

I hope you like it better than the editors at the New Yorker. I think I’ll just keep sending them poems. Like Sylvia Plath, I could create wallpaper with rejection slips.