Core Samples from the World by Forrest Gander

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Core Samples from the World
By Forrest Gander
New Directions

"Just beyond, the road clears the jungle. Wind-blown sands scarf the road. We can't begin to track the changes that bring us here."

Forrest Gander's Core Samples from the World is an unusual book even for poetry, a genre that frequently breaks many book-world rules. Gander's poetry and prose is sequenced beside black-and-white photos by three photographers: Raymond Meeks, Graciela Inturbide and Lucas Foglia. Certainly the words and pictures work together, but it's not as simple as the poems describing the pictures or the pictures inspiring the poems. No, there's something much more poetic going on.

It's as though the images and poems get on each other, the way a dash of some ingredient might accidentally spill into a mixing bowl and suddenly the unsuspecting chef is making a delicacy. In a poem beside a Meeks photo of two dust-covered boys carrying baskets on their heads, one up front and in focus, the other blurry in the background, Gander writes of "The sense of epoch loosened, unstrung. Each one thinking it is the other who recedes like a horizon." Facing an Iturbide photo of what look like rows of cacti, we read a dialogue about tending sheep in France: "They have sheep? Sure. How many might one shepherd have? I don't know, thousands. How could they be counted?"

Gander has always been an innovative poet, and one deeply concerned with the events, and languages, beyond America's borders. In this, certainly his most accessible and possibly his most powerful book, he brings the world's frightening and beautiful strangeness far beyond the edge of the page
—Craig Morgan Teicher

For the complete text of this article, see the National Book Critic's Circle's blog, The Critical Mass.