Forrest Gander, THE BLUE ROCK COLLECTION, Salt Modern Poets Series, 2004
“To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” Walter Pater
Abstract ideas, esoterica (both cultural and naturalistic), and lyrical poesis inform almost each and every one of the 8 poems that make up THE BLUE ROCK COLLECTION. In the title poem Gander invokes the rebel opera singer “Helen Traubel’s voice” when meditating on a stone called serpentine. In LINE OF DESCENT he casually drops Condylarths into a description of the boy, the son, in the moonlight. Gander’s poems provide challenge and insight. Some illuminate, some confuse.
On my first read I was struck by the meandering lineation of many of the poems. Lines are broken in varying lengths and indented across the page—a bit as if all the lines once ran margin to margin and extra words had been excised leaving these striations. I’ve looked for accentual patterns, syllabic patterns, and other versification in the poems and found none that I would feel confident hanging my hat on. That said, the structure of the music in THE BLUE ROCK COLLECTION is in its use of tiers, and shelves, of lines that provide variation in the way they shift and break across the page. This shifting and breaking of this line-based approach is organic…there’s no artifice of math here.
The very first poem in the book, PASTORAL, may be the weakest. Its language school-ish take on trying to imitate the theme in the book is okay. It does allude to the formations of history, time, geology, and poetry that emerge in the book. But that said, as a specimen in and of itself it does not standout as a remarkable instance of the concrete or postmodernist language poem. The poem hinges on the play and replay of the sound of words like “prime,” “ore,” “cast,” and “passed.” On my first read I just breezed through this and hoped the rest of the book wasn’t of the same ilk.
The geology in the book is its superficial organizing principal and as a closet Naturalist I felt charmed by the granular details of the geologist’s trade. There are “scarps,” and “excavations,” whole poems, as in the title poem, that do nothing other than contemplate stone: igneous, metamorphic, etc… And while compelling, the technical aspects of the vocabulary used throughout, are the weakest part of the book. There are far stronger aspects of Gander’s voice than his flourishes of geologist expertise.