Thursday, November 18, 2004

GOEST, by Cole Swenson

Though I am thrilled that Jean Valentine won the National Book Award for Poetry, the other finalists deserve attention as well. GOEST (Alice James Books), by Cole Swensen, was a particularly wonderful volume – intense, experimental, beautiful. Like Valentine, Swensen explores the invisible, the white spaces (both in her language and the placement of her language on the page). She draws upon science, the visual arts, the invention of objects in order to vent, to expose to the air the “living windows”. I leave you with the first section of a poem titled Five Landscapes:

One

I’m on a train, watching landscapes streaming by, thinking
of the single equation that lets time turn physical,
equivocal, almost equable on a train

where a window is speed, vertile, vertige. It will be

one of those beautiful equations, almost visible, almost green. There

in the field a hundred people, a festival, a lake, a summer, a
hundred thousand fields, a woman
places her hand on the small of a man’s back in the middle of the crowd
and leaves it.

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