What It Sounds Like

Forrest Gander

As grains sort inside a schistAn ancient woodland indicator called dark dog’s mercuryRiver like liquid shaleAnd white-tipped black lizard-turds on the blue wallFor a loss that every other loss fits insidePicking at a mole until it bleedsAs the day heaves forward on faked determinationsIf it’s not all juxtaposition, she asked, what is the binding agent?Creepy always to want to pin words on “the emotional experience”Azure hoplia cockchafer, the caddis worm, the bee-louse, blister
beetle, assassin bugThe recriminations swarm around sunsetWhen it was otherwise quiet all the way aroundYou who were given a life, what did you make of it?

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Forrest Gander is the author of numerous books of poetry, translation, fiction, and essays. He’s the A.K. Seaver Professor of Literary Arts and Comparative Literature at Brown University. A U.S. Artists Rockefeller fellow, Gander has been recipient of grants from the NEA, the Guggenheim, Howard, Witter Bynner and Whiting foundations. His 2011 collection Core Samples from the World was an National Book Critics Circle and Pulitzer Prize finalist for poetry.

Drawing from his experience as a translator, Forrest Gander includes in the first, powerfully elegiac section a version of a poem by the Spanish mystical poet St. John of the Cross. He continues with a long multilingual poem examining the syncretic geological and cultural history of the U.S. border with Mexico. The poems of the third section—a moving transcription of Gander’s efforts to address his mother dying of Alzheimer’s—rise from the page like hymns, transforming slowly from reverence to revelation. Gander has been called one of our most formally restless poets, and these new poems express a characteristically tensile energy and, as one critic noted, “the most eclectic diction since Hart Crane.”

“Life, death, and every minor phenomenon in between feels more vivid in Gander’s heartbreaking work.”
Publishers Weekly

Be With charts the addled chronology of personal loss. Poetry often creates a supernatural-seeming rapport with the dead, but rarely has the communication between worlds felt so eerily reciprocal.”
—Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker

“Gander does not turn away from grief but dives into its awful and cathartic cascading beauty that wavers between gravity and weightlessness.”
The Arkansas Review

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