cover image Science & Steepleflower

Science & Steepleflower

Forrest Gander. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $14.95 (88pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1381-3

Slowly pushing narrative poems to the linguistic breaking point, this ambitious, erudite fourth collection builds on the achievement of Gander's Deeds of Utmost Kindness (1994). The more intimate first person of earlier collections here largely gives way to a juxtaposition radically different vocabularies--of geology, physics, entomology; the vernacular of farmers and truckers; of sexual desire--as Gander's speakers map the varying cages of human consciousness, turning to the pleasures of the physical (and gendered) world for respite: ""Can you smell/ where analyses end, the orchard/ oriole begins? Slap her breasts lightly/ to see them quiver./ Delighting in this."" Gander has consistently sought a current vocabulary for erotic poetry, but is also after larger game, contending with a broad range of historical moments. ""The History of Manifest Destiny"" (to pick one example from a section of ""History"" poems), penetratingly renders the everyday brutality of colonialism through the voice of explorer George Vancouver. At other points, such verbal channeling leads to archaic or syntactic opacity, as in a series of ""Meditative[s]"" and ""Geometric Losses."" But on the whole, Gander's is a lyrical and rigorous aesthetic that resolutely confronts the impassable screen of individual mind: ""the brightest dark and darkest dark/ open huge their mouths. There is a disturbance like a kiss through which cognition disappears."" (May)