Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Be With is Forrest Gander's first book of poems since the death of his wife, poet C.D. Wright. Gander explores intimacy, loss, and grief as well as ekphrasis in a series of poems on photos by Michael Flomen.
... plangent, thrumming ... In many ways, the book’s focus is strikingly inward, showing how grief sounds in the body, mapping paths, making previously hidden regions visible. In another sense, Gander’s poems are public howls that trace a luminous borderland where the self dissolves into the world ... There are dazzling fragments, unraveling syntax, poems that, in their ghostliness, also force us to be alert to our own fragile lives.
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.