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  • The Transparency of Faithful Existence
  • Forrest Gander (bio)


Neither Jewish, Christian, nor Buddhist, when I write I am cloistered, nevertheless, in my own imagination. The basic gesture of my writing is a listening. Perhaps this attitude resembles that of the religious. But my credal source is worldly. Faith, for me, derives from the most common revelations. What is stands suddenly more revealed. Yet, like Edmund Jabès, I have found no Truth but truths and interrogative, no reality but feeling and interpretation.

We shall all be changed, the Bible promises, though for most of us it is momentary. Love unseats us, but we thread ourselves slowly back into the dull wood of our egos. It is hard to sustain a constant awe, as Lao Tzu importuned, and so tragedy befalls us. We fail to construct a lifelong state of wonder. And yet artistic and spiritual endeavors inspire our efforts to do so, as though the efforts themselves were all-important.

If the language practices commandeering world history are increasingly standardized, utilitarian, and transcriptional, poetry offers a different order of relationship with the other. Because poetry’s meanings are neither quantitative nor verifiable, because they are distinct from those meanings obtained by rational and calculative processes, they might well be considered miraculous.

How else describe language-acts that, despite referential disparity, can communicate coursing emotional registers and formalize insights and so articulate the world that we see as though we are seeing it for the first time. Poetry can be an ecstasy of words spindling perceptions. The meaningful dialogue between the poem and the reader is as much a sacred manifestation as I hope to encounter.

I come to consider language by how it uses me. Poetry offers a transformative summons. It enacts my own felt need to engage emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual experience in forms neither self-serving nor predatory. When, in an interview, Rosmarie Waldrop says that “The one transcendence that is available to us, that we can enter into, is language,” she implies that language houses all of us together, shaping human experience. The [End Page 78] great capacity of language is to bring us into proximity with one another. We fill with recognitions. In my own encounter with poetry, I approach the imagined possibility of an attentive mode of being. Shifting my perspective, poetry reconstructs my relationship to the world and to the future. I am torn awake.


… but I was more declamatory in my twenties.

I majored in geology. I spent four years learning to recognize crystal forms, using an X-ray diffractor to make structural maps of minerals, tracing the archaic mammalian radiation, cracking open black shales to study graptolites so compacted they were hardly more distinguishable than pencil marks and I was careful not to inhale them.

Sometimes I begin poems with a structural penchant, but unlike the Oulipians, whom I admire, my architecture deforms according to what it comes to contain. A long poem, The Faculty for Hearing the Silence of Jesus, started as mimetic enthusiasm for a rhetorical motif in a section of the Bhagavad-Gita, but in the final version of my poem, no approximation of the original pattern remains. Overriding musical and semantic concerns transformed the poem. “Feel pattern, be wed” goes Robert Creeley’s gnomic verse, and so I do.

Whether form or cadence triggers the poems, measure always conducts my composition. Writing, I pass from time to space, from succession to juxtaposition. I write the poem in all directions at once, emphasizing not the stability of single words but the transition that emanates between them, or between a word and its rings of association, rings of silence. My idea of meaning derives from the continuity of the transition, which is, for me, erotic.

I was raised by women and among women; we communicated in such a way that men’s minds—when later I came to think I knew them—were strange to me. Maybe this has more to do with my family than with gender, though gestation and birth are metaphors I continuously associate with writing. I have always believed my body is involved in my thinking as a locus and means of perception and...


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pp. 78-81
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