Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Forrest Gander—Pulitzer Prize Poet of 2019

Forrest Gander photo by Gage Skidmore.

Every year the cultural mavens who hand out Pulitzer Prizes reveal their list of honorees in April.  That gives me guaranteed fodder for a post on the winner of the Poetry Prize.  But I have an embarrassing admission to make—most years the winners, no matter how celebrated in poetry circles, not only take me by surprise but I have never even heard of them.  Despite enjoying reading and writing verse, I am not in the loop—outside of both academia and hipper poetry slam culture.  I don’t subscribe to or read the little literary magazines or even venerated Poetry which would surely enlighten me.  
I stumble on most of the contemporary poets I post about in this  National Poetry Month series on the internet or am tipped off by folks much more knowledgeable than me.  You can plainly see that I am something of a fraud and blowhard. 
This year’s Pulitzer poet, Forrest Gander was typically unknown to me.  Ever useful Wikipedia informs me that... 
He was born in the Mojave Desert in 1956 as James Forrest Cockerille III, Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia where he and his two sisters were raised by their single mother, an elementary school teacher. The four shared a two-room apartment in Annandale.  His estranged father ran The Mod Scene, a bar on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. With his mother and sisters, Gander began to travel extensively on summer road trips around the United States. The traveling, which never stopped, came to inform his interest in landscapes, languages, and cultures.  Forrest and his two sisters, Karin and Lisa, were adopted by Walter J. Gander soon after his  marriage to their mother, the former Ruth Clare Cockerille.
Gander earned college degrees in geology, a subject referenced frequently in both his poems and essays, and in English literature. His work has been linked to Ecopoetics and ecology.  A writer in multiple genres, Gander is noted for his many collaborations with other artists. 
He is a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow and the recipient of fellowships from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, The Whiting Foundation, and the Howard Foundation. In 2017, he was elected as a Chancellor to the Academy of American Poets.
He taught at Providence College and at Harvard University before becoming the Adele Kellenberg Seaver Professor of Literary Arts and Comparative Literatures at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Gander's late wife, the poet C.D. Wright/
Gander was married to the late poet C.D. Wright. Together they raised a son, the artist-craftsman Brecht Wright Gander. He lives now in Petaluma, California with ceramic artist Ashwini Bhat.
He has written books of highly praised poetry including Be With, for which he was honored with the Pulitzer.  He has also written two novels, numerous essays, been a translator if works in Spanish, French, and Japanese, edited anthologies, and collaborated on special projects with fine artists and crafts persons.  
So I’m impressed—he seems to be mix of a latter day roving Beat like Jack Kerouac, and a modern Eco poet with a dose of multi-cultural influences thrown in.
Gander is so hip that he co-authored a poem with Beyoncé about her daughter Blue Ivy and God called Bey the Light.

The Moment When Your Name is Pronounced
This high up, the face
eroding; the red cedar slopes
over. An accident chooses a stranger.
Each rain unplugs roots
which thin out like a hand.
Above the river, heat
lightning flicks silently
and the sound holds, coiled in air.
Some nights you are here
dangling a Valpolicella bottle,
staring down at the flat water
that slides by with its mouth full of starlight.
It is always quiet
when we finish the wine.
While you were a living man
how many pictures were done
of you. Serious as an angel,
lacing up your boots. Ice
blows into my fields.
—Forrest Gander

From Rush to the Lake, 1988

The Iteration

From the grooved highway at sixty-five,
a hum rises. Except intimacy

there is nada. That
was a scissortail the woman says.

The boy in the back seat stops
blowing his Coke bottle

as they pass
the mowing machines. Spiked

lobelia, crown vetch, trumpet vine
under the blades of the Ditch-witch tremble.

What is the true jelly of an animal?
asks the boy, tonguing his tooth

on its last string. The woman
turns her face smiling.

The skyline jumps over the moon.
The man drives with his finger

inside her. Years
of together. The theories

were unfit to live on.
Only dust was given duration.

They know that
they are naked. 

—Forrest Gander

Gander's Pulitzer Prize winning collection Be With, W.W. Norton & Co., 2018

The Sounding

What closes and then
luminous? What opens
and then dark? And into
what do you stumble
but this violet
extinction? With
froth on your lips.
8:16 a.m. The morning’s
sleepy face

rolls its million
eyes. Migrating flocks
of your likesame species
into transparency.
A birdwatcher lifts

her binoculars. The con-
tinuous with or without
your words
situates you here
(here (here)) even while
you knuckle your eyes
in disbelief. Those

voices you love (human
and not), can you
hear their echoes
hissing away like
fiery scale
from an ingot hammered
on some
blacksmith’s anvil?
And behind those
voices, what is that
the valves of your ears open
as black rain,
not in torrents, but
ceaselessly comes
unchecked out of everywhere
with nothing
to slacken it.

—Forrest Gander
From Be With, 2018

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