cover image Core Samples from the World

Core Samples from the World

Forrest Gander. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1887-0

Gander is an experimental poet in the most literal sense of the word, in that each of his books attempts things that haven't been tried before, either by him or others. In this eighth collection, four sequences of poems respond to pictures by three photographers%E2%80%94Raymond Meeks, Graciela Iturbide, and Lucas Foglia%E2%80%94making of the images metaphors for people and places that are easy to see but difficult to penetrate. The poems don't describe the pictures so much as work in chorus with them; in a poem on whose facing page is a Meeks photo of a shirtless, dust-covered boy carrying a basket, Gander writes: "I cannot be discarded, his eyes say," which is as much a response to the picture as it is a challenge to the visitor to take the unfamiliar place on its own terms. Concluding each section is a piece of jumpy prose, a kind of lyric essay, narrating one of four journeys%E2%80%94to Xinjiang, Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina. and Chile%E2%80%94all of which serve to illustrate that "Behind everything/ the foreigner sees, something he doesn't/ know how to look for." In these pieces, Gander gets as close as one can to the sensations of being an outsider straining toward empathy: "I wanted to borrow eyes/ from another language," he writes. "I was looking for the words to come." (May)