Wearing a modified gas station attendant’s shirt with the name patch ripped off where “Bob” would be and a compass-like design on the lower left hand side of the shirt, Forrest Gander (and his orchestra) stood before the podium at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. His orchestra consisted of a boom box cued to two instrumental pieces that he composed for the occasion of the reading of his “Ligatures.”
However, before all of that, Brenda Hillman introduced Gander and described him as an epistemological and phenomenological poet who is largely influenced by Oppen and Rilke.
Gander first read from his translations of Bolivian poet Jaime Saenz, an openly bisexual poet at a time when bisexuality was even more deeply taboo in Bolivian society. Saenz married a Jewish woman who was a member of the women’s fascist brigade, and on his wedding night he came home with a panther. The marriage fell apart shortly thereafter. Saenz was an alcoholic who got his best work done in the 20 years when he wasn’t drinking. Saenz was also interested in the indigenous Aymara culture. Gander went on to explain that in Aymara culture (both linguistically and conceptually) the past is considered as forward and the future is behind. The words for forward and behind even closely resemble past and present respectively. In his poems from “The Night” that Gander translated with Kent Johnson, Saenz addresses a “you” that is a composite of his beloved city of La Paz, which he never left, the beloved, and death. In the second selection from “The Night”, the speaker addresses both the night and the body in a metaphysical exploration of where one begins and the other ends.
Gander then read two new pieces “Interval” and “Evaporation.”
After these two new pieces, Gander committed one of his “transgressions” for the evening. Accompanied by music that he orchestrated and arranged for piano, clarinet, and programmable percussion, he read “Ligature” with this soundtrack in the background. Then he read “Ligature 4” accompanied by another soundtrack where the main melody of the work was sounded by a flute. Gander seemed uncertain about these efforts, like he was ready to take them back after he had done them, but for this listener, they were the highlights of the evening, proof again of Gander’s daring to take on new ground as he moves forward as an artist. In particular, whether it was intended or not, I liked how the last word in “Ligature” (namely the word “unnameable”) finished after the soundtrack and stood on its own in silence as a singular point of focus. I was heartened, given hope that one day we won’t call these things “poetry readings” but maybe “poetry singings” or at the very least, “poetry chantings.”
He read several more of his “ligatures” [“Ligature 5” and “Ligature 6”] unaccompanied, and finally the evening was concluded with a new work in progress entitled “Background Check.”