A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed
Be With by Forrest Gander

“Be With” by Forrest Gander

May 24, 2020

Reading a book of poetry is like when you just meet someone; you either like them or you don’t. It all depends on if they have a warm interaction with you — if they are transparent, sincere and say what’s on their mind. Personally, when I read poetry, I want to see that the poet has spread layer and layer of thick heavy passion on his poems. I want to hear about his most intimate or complicated feelings expressed in the most simple, uncomplicated ways. Even though I expect the content of his poems to be deep and heavy, I still like the words and the language used to be soft and weightless, so that the reader is not confused, too impressed, or too distracted by the complexity of the poet’s academically advanced language or intellect. After all, the real job of poetry is not to be too formal and aloof, but to shoot directly to the center of our emotions without any fuss, delay, or hesitations. 

Be With by Forrest Gander
Be With by Forrest Gander

In Be With, a collection of eighteen poems by Forrest Gander and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, I found that there is no passion. The language is too formal and cold. His poetry did not reach and touch me. I found them all to be too intense. I read the book as a student reads a class assignment.

Let me give you an idea of what I really like when it comes to poetry. I am in love with the poetry of the likes of Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca , Charles Bukowski, and, from the list of more classic poets, my all-time favorite, Emily Dickinson. These poets’ works all ooze with feelings. I can read them every day and still come back for a second serving the next day without being bored.

There are a few poems in Forrest Gander’s book that are kind of memorable, like his long poem about his mother’s Alzheimer’s, titled “Ruth.” Reading through the book, I noticed that there is a certain melody being played from the start to the end — a melody which might have been the result of the sorrow the poet feels regarding his mother’s Alzheimer’s and the death of his wife.  Although the melody is played well, using his best tool — language — expertly,  there is still no warmth and no charm. The poetry has been compromised by the stiffness and complication of the style the poet uses to tell you about his sterile feelings. You get the notion that the poet is putting his guards up and does not really trust to share the secrets hidden in the bottom of his heart with his readers. Maybe the lack of warmth and charm in Forrest Gander’s poetry is all because of his entanglement with words and the formality of the language he uses. Who is to say? Read the book, and let me know your take on it. 


Her husband lifeless
in chair facing
TV, whole days
mute, her own mind,
her hearing,
shot. And it won’t
get any better. Absolutely
nothing to look
forward to, she says
to whom if
not you?

Wearing two identical
left shoes. No one
believes I don’t
dye my hair, she remarks
for the umpteenth
time. Point taken, I’m
grayer than my
mother though
in the mirror I see
her face, her small
dark eyes.

Five states north, he
wonders what
causes the
he hears behind
his mother’s
voice: she must
be down on the
floor, the phone
in one hand
and with
the other
must be
scratching the
tumorous dog
whose paw
rakes the carpet.

green case on the nightstand
glasses on a Redskins lanyard

green glasses case
containing one hearing aid

minus its battery on the nightstand
glasses on a Redskins lanyard

in the green grass
under one of many bird feeders

in the backyard thronging
with blurred mute birds

Occasional muculent chortling
or choking and steady
beep of the EKG.

The beak-hard
determination to
be a good person,
what happened
to that? How
is it true
I have to
go now? For her, the
occasion of my
presence begs
more. Who is my
mother now I am
unspoken for?

So take her hand, walking in
the garden: an animal moment of warmth
she won’t recall after our sit. Voracious
starlings ride a swinging cage of suet.
That signal enthusiasm in her eyes
muddles with torment. Choose whatever
you will and the disease
still wins. Like a heavy shawl,
the shadow of cloud drags across
mountains on the horizon. Maybe I’ve
misread her expression.

To plunge into love as into a sidewalk.
Came awake as though I were a siren going off.
The ugliness of putting food in my
mouth, my belly gurgling
like so many horseleeches. And so
days-to-come will crack open without you,
dropping their yolk over places you walked.
And the white lowly primrose will foam
wild like some scrap of your happiness
refusing to abandon me. Blah blah. The
mirror in the shrine is memory. All
you lived adjusts now and is lived back
in me here on earth. A flock of geese
sifts through the barrow pit. Postpuke
acid sears my throat.

To find the present breaking itself
loose from the sequence of events, bolting
through gaps in the corral of context and
carrying its befuddled rider
                             into an expanding plain of brumous outlines.

Forrest Gander

About the Author
Born in the Mojave Desert in Barstow, California, Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia and spent significant years in San Francisco, Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico, Eureka Springs, AR, and Providence, RI. He married the poet C.D. Wright with whom he has a son, Brecht Wright Gander. Forrest Gander holds degrees in both geology and English literature. 

Concerned with the way we are revised and translated in encounters with the foreign, his book Core Samples from the World was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Gander has collaborated frequently with other artists including photographers Sally Mann, Graciela Iturbide, Raymond Meeks, and Lucas Foglia, glass artist Michael Rogers, ceramic artists Rick Hirsch and Ashwini Bhat, artists Ann Hamilton,Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, dancers Eiko & Koma, and musicians Vic Chesnutt and Brady Earnhart, among others. 

The author of numerous other books of poetry, including Redstart: An Ecological Poetics and Science & Steepleflower, Gander also writes novels (As a Friend;The Trace), essays (A Faithful Existence) and translates. His most recent translations areAlice Iris Red Horse: Poems of Gozo YoshimasuThen Come Back: the Lost Neruda Poems and Fungus Skull Eye Wing: Selected Poems of Alfonso D’Aquino. His most recent anthologies are Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin American (selected by Raúl Zurita) and Panic Cure: Poems from Spain for the 21st Century.

Gander’s books have been translated and published in France, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Bulgaria, Japan, China, Germany, Turkey, Italy, and the Netherlands. He is a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow and has received fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim, Whiting, and Howard Foundations. In 2011, he was awarded the Library of Congress Witter Bynner Fellowship. Gander was the Briggs-Copeland poet at Harvard University before becoming The Adele Kellenberg Seaver Professor of Literary Arts and Comparative Literature at Brown University where he taught courses such as Poetry & Ethics, EcoPoetics, Latin American Death Trip, and Translation Theory & Practice.


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