Sunday, November 30, 2008

Forrest Gander moves into fiction -- like a poem

Reading at the Vermont Studio Center on Saturday night, Forrest Gander -- poet of the South, but long in residence at Brown University, Rhode Island -- showered the space with new work from his ongoing collaboration with photographer Lucas Foglia. Foglia has been capturing images of utopian communities; with those images at his mind's eye, and full of words from the community members, Gander constructed "Moving Around for the Light: A Madrigal." Slight of build, dark haired and dressed in black, but with an open and lit face, Gander stood at the improvised podium and delivered the words with a rhythm and vibration that came as much from the lines on paper as from his right leg moving, his careful phrasing, the tension of the lines against the tension of the language. Eventually the spoken paragraphs of the communities began to separate into their own lines and fragments, and Gander braided them as if providing a new form in which lines appeared in a mysterious but powerful new sequence.

A quick dip into his newest poetry collection, EYE TO EYE, shook Gander -- he said they were still "too painful" to read aloud -- and he responded to an audience request for "Anniversary" (from SCIENCE AND STEEPLEFLOWER) by rendering the poem from the heart rather than from the page. A hand, a leg, a pause, again the tensions and ties.

Then Gander offered his very newest published work, his novel AS A FRIEND (New Directions, 2008). "I've written the world's smallest novel," he announced; "it took me twenty years to write." After noting how differently our culture treats fiction and poetry (this book has already captured a December review slot at the New York Times), he added, "Poetry is definitely -- it lives in the shadows. It's still the thing that feeds me the most." Inevitably, then, AS A FRIEND invests each word and line with significance. Set in the Ozarks of Arkansas, where Gander used to live, it offers three powerful characters and a death. After reading a portion from the book's center passage, Gander moved into the final section, "Sara's Tale," which he described as the most poetic portion of the book. It is in fact written in lines, and again, Gander separates strands from powerful cords -- those of love, loss, betrayal, lies, and underlying truths -- and rearranges their sequence until each strand shines as if it were a lock of hair, brushed, oiled, gleaming.

No comments: