Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Core Samples from the World, Forrest Gander: delayed response to a well-received volume.

Core Samples from the World contains some lovely poems based on devices like repetition in a staggered or staged but lyrical fashion, interspersed with prose accounts of voyages to areas of the world largely unfrequented by Americans: Xinjiang, China; the Chihuahua Desert, Mexico; Bosnia; La Serena, Chile. All bleak locals, but some of these adventures are extraordinary, the “consumption of compulsory toasts” with the Kyrgyz of the Gobi Desert, the version of polo played there with the decapitated carcass of a goat, if you can ride. Overwhelmingly he conjures scenes of deserts, dryness, spent mining locations, impoverished terrain, all to real environmental disasters. Travel grants aside, is it only poets who visit such places? I felt no brotherhood among the bands of American poets and local poets or other residents of these spaces, but I did experience Gander’s sharp eyes and his ability to resolve lyric fragments from the prosaic: “Men at the edge of / their shops, spitting on fingertips / to seal the deal” (14). The prose immediately before this tercet evokes “hanging carcasses” and elaborate juice presses for pomegranates. From these details resolve lines that meet stringent prosodic standards of syllabification, stress, and rhyme, howsoever brief or jewel-like. This feat of resolution happens throughout the book: “a cannon sends shockwaves through my shirt, / the pigeons whoosh into the air, / a spadeful of exploding fists” (89). Resolution here of a surreal order, rather than mocking rhyme as above, the tightness of the movement over and through the lines is precise. We have come upon one of my hobby horse themes, the relation between work in lines and prose. In Core Samples, I also is a prose generated by the self-consciousness that accompanies travelling in remote places. The processes inscribed remind me of my own Mexican notebooks to be found in Prolog Pages (Ahadada 2009) or my treks through the mountains of Spain and Morocco A North Atlantic Wall (Dos Madres 2010).

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