NEA Literature Fellowships

Forrest Gander

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(2001 - Poetry)

from "The Hugeness of That Which is Missing"


Call the direction the eye is looking
the line of sight. There
where it grazes the surface
                      of the visibly surging
without reference to a field of human presence,
don't look away.
                                        I haven't looked away.

The neurons spike quickly. And the catastrophe
will be consummated even to the end, to the absence of ambiguity,
a new range of feeling. Torn awake. What if
a man went into his house and leaned his hand
against the wall and the wall
                                     was not?

Look how your relation to truth creates a tension
you have slackened with compromise.
                                        Yes, and the more
distant it is, the more I have valued it. But to stand
where the crossing happens, as fall oaks fold
                                                      into lake light, and so
wearing reflection, take a further step inside-

                                                         No, the voice said, you will strike out
into a forest of pain, unpathed, wolved, clouds muffling the mountain ridge
                                                                  and spilling down in runnels,
blindness with confusion come to parl, at variance with,
measuring out an exile between self and self. Driven
transverse. Hazarded abroad. Nevertheless you will begin to arrive, to know
                                                             from intimate impulse
the crucial experience of . . . the threat of dissolution of . . . but not yet.
There is something more astonishing
                                           than rhythms of distance and presence,
of more quality than the set of qualities determining figure and ground
and suffering, where respite is so often
misinterpreted as a horizon.

Isn't the word for a turn of phrase
itself a turn of phrase?
                      Something was given to me as a present
and a spectre was attached to me, a projection
                                           pregnant with equivocation.

And in the neck of language,
and in the early June riots of starlings,
and in some crumbs in the seam of a book,
the solid real steps out from infinitely diluted experience

saying Tongue I gave you. Eyes.

At any point in the trajectory, the body might stop. Do you recall this part?

But who is it who is speaking
in the glorious and contracted light?

Real Audioexcerpt read by the author

Forrest Gander is the editor of Mouth to Mouth, a bilingual anthology of contemporary Mexican poets, and the author of five poetry books, including Science & Steepleflower and Torn Awake from New Directions. In 2002, The University of California Press will publish Gander's translations, with Kent Johnson, Immanent Visitor: The Selected Poems of Jaime Saenz, and Graywolf Press will bring out Gander's translations, No Shelter: Selected Poems of Pura Lopez Colome. The recipient of two Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative North American Writing, an NEA Fellowship in Poetry, and The Whiting Award for Writers, Gander has written critical essays for The Nation, The Boston Review, The Providence Journal, and others. With poet C.D. Wright, he co-edits the literary book press Lost Roads Publishers and keeps a small orchard outside Providence. A recent Briggs-Copeland Poet at Harvard University, Gander is Professor of English Literature and Director of The Creative Writing Program at Brown University.

Author's Statement

The NEA has had a profound impact on my intellectual life. Just now, the press I co-edit with C.D. Wright, Lost Roads Publishers -- itself the recipient of several NEA grants to organizations -- is publishing books by Frank Stanford, who received NEA support to start Lost Roads Publishers in 1978, and Besmilr Brigham, who received one of the first NEA fellowships in 1971. My own NEA fellowship will allow me to write for the next three summers instead of teaching.

I am currently finishing a manuscript, Torn Awake, which takes up the question of who speaks in a culture, in a relationship - and how that speech is interpreted and translated. Each of the book's major sequences develops a unique subject, theme, rhythm, poetic form, and lyric voice. I hope they illuminate ways that language - as history read from bones by anthropologists, as discourse between lovers, as gestures between parent and child, as temple graffiti, or as an event in itself, i.e. the very experience of words at play in the poetic text -- incarnates presence as the assertion of diverse and contradictory modes of identity in relation.