Poetry often creates a supernatural-seeming rapport with the dead, but rarely has the communication between worlds felt so eerily reciprocal ... In Be With, he is at once adamant about the ineffability of grief and committed to getting his inchoate 'grief-sounds' somehow into words. The book’s sputtering, flinching style, with its syntactical dead ends and missed connections, feels like both an accommodation to the necessity of language and proof of its inadequacy ... The book’s title gives away its most tragic insight. 'Be with': the phrase is stripped of its object; the beloved has been ripped from the world. Reciprocity is suddenly broken, as though one player in a game had walked off the court mid-volley ... Gander’s poems call to mind those Thomas Hardy wrote after the sudden death of his wife, Emma. Hardy’s verse skips over his immediate, painful past to a moment 'when our day was fair,' dwelling on the uncanny traces his wife left behind in 'a room on returning thence.' Gander shares the intensity of Hardy’s grief—his morose fixation on moments squandered. The poems in Be With recall the happy parallel paths in life and in art that he and [his late wife C.D.] Wright followed—always within a holler of each other ... The book as a whole...is a self-suturing wound, equal parts bridge and void.
Reading Forrest Gander’s work makes the reader feel as if she’s entering a world larger than her own, one with a broader vocabulary, richer imagery, and a deeper understanding of the relationships between the ordinary and the unknowable. Sometimes one is baffled, but more often feels stretched, welcomed into a cherished complexity ... This journey from unspeakable pain to the shadow of a possibility of solace follows the strange logic of grief over time, and it does so with beauty, strangeness, and absolute control of the language that describes emotion that is out of control. To read Gander’s work is to expand your knowledge of the natural world (helminth parasites, a vulture-bone flute, cockchafer, crocodile scute, lechuguilla). And because of his background in geology, the formations of the natural world appear and are named—trachyte hoodoos, Panther Laccolith, for example. These send us to search out their meaning, pushing the bounds of what we know and see ... This is a book...that opens a deeper way of seeing and being in the world, inviting us to go back to it again and again.
It is, unsurprisingly, a book full of death, of questions of translation and translinguality, and of testing the relationship between words and the world ... The poems of the first half of Be With establish the thesis of the book, on how a poet’s mourning a poet questions the word’s ability to translate the world. Their referents are less clear than in the poems that follow—and for this reason, they both address the underlying question of the relationship between words and the world and also seem addressed to the poet’s deceased wife. The poetry tells us how to read it ... these poems also swarm with insects and arachnids, a detail I cannot figure out.