Forrest Gander

2019 Pulitzer Prize

Recommended Recent Readings

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Radioactive Starlings by Myronn Hardy
Exigent, insistently international in their references, Myronn Hardy's poems combine painterly sensuality with a restless interrogation of history and self. Bodies, in Hardy's poems, stand where other bodies stood centuries before. Absences grow visible; someone is always looking at someone else looking away. Such themes are enacted in Hardy's singular prosody. The starlings of the book's title are what unite all the poems and places. We sense them, specks of blackness, flying over us, blowing through us like neutrinos, bringing us together, living and dead, in the fullness of our humanity.
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The Cold by Jaime Saenz, translated by Kit Schluter
For the great Bolivian poet-mystic Jaime Saenz, the realm of the cold, like the realm of the night, is a place both real and fluidly metaphorical: it is you, reader, and it is the city, the beloved, alcohol, and the unspoken word on our lips. To enter, to break the membrane dividing the cold from the spoken, the agreed-upon and familiar world, you must have a santo y seña, a password, a talisman and faith in the permeability of past and future, death and life, self and other. “To fall into the abyss with you,” Saenz writes, “would be to live the true life.” The poem becomes the password given freely to us, but it comes at a terrific cost to the poet. Kit Schluter has a tuned ear and he renders Saenz’s genius into revelation in this riveting translation.

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The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground by Collier Nogues
This is the best book of erasure poetry since Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager. Through typographical erasures in texts connected with Japanese and American lives in the so-called Pacific Theater toward the end of World War II, Collier Nogues’ The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground opens the hollow spaces, the fear and hope, the unspoken grief elicited—in those who remain, in those whose lives are in peril—by the missing, the presumed dead, the soldiers.

Like Alice Oswald’s version of
The Iliad, it imagines a domestic life, a quiet inside the tempest. Nogues carves critical observations into slow motion (erasure isolating and elongating time) so that we seem to see inside the body’s gestures. And despite they are derived from a dazzling array of incongruous texts, the manuscript manages to sustain a consistency of tone and form. Like Reddy’s remarkable Voyager, these poems read less as the products of erasure than as lyric poems that have, in Nogues’ book, the emotional surge and restraint of Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan & Isolde, an analogy that is more apt than ironic.

The book is an intense meditation on war, riddled with aporia and drawing on many resources—documentary, epistolary, and even rhyming lyric—to create an empathic and deeply affecting experience of contact with the devastation war brings and “with the pain about to come.”

With an “Editor’s Introduction” serving as
ars poetica, Collier Nogues attends to the physical, geographical, emotional, and ethical dimensions of what it is we stand on in The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground.

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True to Life by H.L. Hazuka
The Table of Contents of True to Life: cuttings, mechanics, & modifications advises us: “A Series of Cinematic Translations / presented as a means of direct translation in the increment of instances, / these poems were composed during the screening of each film.” And the titles reference innovative films. Emily Richardson’s recent landscape-in-transition film “Aspect.” Stan Brakhage’s signature 1960’s series “Dog Star Man.” A documentary on the Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin. A pair of “personal” films by Gunvor Nelson, the Swedish painter-turned-filmmaker known for her 1970’s work in the San Francisco Bay area. Others.

So what do you expect? Notations of the sort you or I might make in the dark as we watched inventive films? Fragments of description, dialogue, shorthand commentary? Poetry manuscript as conceptual project? A lyric manifesto for the avant-garde?

What you’ll find are fierce poems that present themselves in small pulses, in one-to-three-stress lines patterned with vowel echoes (tulle /commute), alliteration (dried or drying leaves), and off-rhyme (born /storm). The high-intensity juxtapositions create a compelling unpredictability as syntax holds or unlinks across the frequent line breaks to create a “feel / of never knowing.” We don’t know precisely what is happening, but we actively experience and adjust.

The poet’s terse language merges phenomenological with descriptive and narrative modalities so that the reader becomes increasingly invested in both the seeing and the scene. We don’t simply watch these poems; they include us in their representations of “you” and “I” to the degree that “you” becomes “infinite eyes.” And the poems keep zooming in on sensual details, on “parasols spinning / clockwise” or an “incessant clinking / freight.”

What of landscape—“at bird speed,” “thicket’s tricket”—was captured once on celluloid, is released here as wordscapes (which carry their own audio and visual tracks). What was “tugged from view” in a film is tugged from view again on the page. But although the constructed “place” in the film remains identical with itself, “the place/ where I am” has changed as the meanings of “I watch” come into question.

The wonderful poems of
True to Life aren’t nostalgic paeans to cinematography or ekphrastic illuminations or even records of the experience of watching films. As they call our attention to “how every realism / is a representation,” they become linguistic delivery systems for insights into how now is born.
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Some Habits by C. Violet Eaton
One of the most stunning books I’ve read in years, Some Habits exalts a kind of Ozark-baroque particularity. C. Violet Eaton gets “down in the texture” of lists—puccoon, horsemint, flax, and sevenbark, of hermetic numerical sequences, of emotionally exigent epistolary tendernesses that come nested in rural landscape, of 17th century phrasings intercalated with fragments of science and a sensibility as contemporary as “Spaghetti-O’s warmed right in the can” or weathermen grinning “like shits.” The lexicon is so inventively rich and tangly, so hilarious or outrageously sensual, it demands our lingering in it. We want to read as slowly as possible. “Bones intemixt with branches.” What a love poem to the body, to somebody, and to the world!

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Arc Tangent by Eric Selland
Shifting between prose poems, haibun, and line-broken statements— “What remains is physical sensation”— and a more intensely elliptical and syntactically acrobatic lyric, Selland joins a Heideggerian concern for the nature of being (which was profoundly influenced by Japanese thought) with his own experience of living and traveling in Asia.
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The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky
In short chapters linked by repetitions of words or events, punctuated by death and then reinvigorated, revised, and given a further trajectory, Erpenbeck spectacularly refashions Nietzsche’s “eternal return.” She writes, “the dying in which he lies is so huge that he cannot find his way across,” and yet Erpenbeck will find a way for him, although it is through his death.
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The Differences by Patrick Morrissey
Exploring the line as a situation that “justifies itself/ by what it makes/ possible to hear,” Morrissey brings a vigorous and gorgeous attentiveness to the lyric thought of feeling, the feeling of thought.
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Doubled Shadows by Ouyang Jianghe, translated by Austin Woerner
Through the terrific contextualizing introduction by Wolfgang Kubin and then through a hilariously instructive personal note by Austin Woerner on translating this book, we enter the match-lit rabbit hole of Ouyang Jianghe’s poetry. And it brings us surprisingly nearer to our own world, allowing us impossible simultaneous perspectives: the close up and the pan shot, the thing in its event (including the thing of language) and the philosophical consideration of its web of implications. Woerner translates genius into genius.
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The Infinitesimals by Laura Kasischke

And then I saw

as a snapshot of a statue of a woman saying
certain things forever. But…

The Infinitesimals explores a dark domesticity in sonically-carved, spooky, jumpy takes. Kasischke is the master of a precise lyric shorthand, of underplayed off-rhyme. She blows up moments of breaking emotional revelation and unlikely contact in sharp, indelible images.
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The Phosphorescence of Thought by Peter O'Leary
A dramatic shift away from the torrential and visionary densities of his previous book Luminous Epinoia, The Phosphorescence of Thought surges and pauses, surges, pauses. It acts out a genesis. In stanzas, new beginnings. In quotation and allusion, resurrections and recastings. O'Leary's lexicon-- in all his books-- is outrageous, a kind of divination through which American English and the habits of birds and gods are translated into "golden hissing notes." If Thomas Browne had written The Song of Songs... O'Leary "gets up on the one," as Miles Davis would say. How does he manage the distance with such dazzling displays of hopefulness? Reading The Phosphorescene of Thought is the most uplifting thing I've done in far too long.
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Violence and Splendor by Alphonso Lingis
Lingis, who has translated and written about Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, is equally a writer and philosopher. In Violence and Splendor, his poetic phrasings, his stylistic innovations (abrupt shifts, correlative personal narratives, photographs, and short meditations that seem to precipitate out from between longer essays), give rise to extraordinarily expansive structures for thinking and feeling. His vigorous explorations of what Americans tend to repress shiver the timbers of Western culture. But the essays are incredibly intimate and they speak intimately. His inquiry is challenge to the soul.