Goest

book by Cole Swensen
annotation by Kimberly Bredberg

Goest, the archaic second person singular form of go, really? What kind of title is this?
I’d say a poetic one.
This title is Rorschach.
I am set into motion reading the ink somewhere between the past and present.
Here, at least from a poetic point of view, associating the word “goest” conjures “ghost” and I am drawn in to the drama of the volume at hand.
Goest is at once a charge
to dig for the ethereal and
to bask in the translucent ghost we discover.

The volume is divided into three sections, a larger middle section bookended by white: Of White,
A History of the Incandescent,
On White.

I begin with an observation of titles. Each one an invitation, no, a hook. All that I appreciate about this poet might be drawn from these two pages alone. In fact, the combined titles almost (but not quite) read like a list poem: “The Girl Who Never Rained”/ “The Future of Sculpture”/ “The Exploration of Fuor-Spar” and on and on.

Of Whit and On White contain poems that mirror, substantiating the “bookend” effect: “White Cities” : “Razed Cities” and “Five Landscapes” : “Five Landscapes” and “The Future of Sculpture” : “The Future of White” add sculptural shaping to the volume.
The middle section of poems, A History of the Incandescent, delves into the shine that illuminates, tricks the eye, reflects, and, into that which is core. As with other volumes of Swensen’s work, I find that these poems, on the surface, appear arcane, standoffish, even a bit snobby. But surface judgment is always a bad idea. The reader unwilling to work for engagement will surely be deprived of a treasure—rich language, creative syntax, sound, and image—gold worth the dig. There is much to glean from Swenson who makes precise intellectual observations, information that she then filters through the mesh of imagination.
A favorite poem in this volume, “Lacrymae Vitrae,” illustrates what I appreciate about Cole Swensen’s work in general. The poem is a terrific bundle of associations, one that highlights a dusty connection between humanity in the 21st century and humanity in the 18th century. Molten glass dripped into water produces a glass teardrop that is, on one end ridiculously strong and on the other ridiculously fragile. “scientists will note/we, who were all home at the time,/bursting into finest dust/if even the smallest fragment is broken off.” The analogy illuminates the ghost, challenges me to think and to act… to goest. This poem is at once physicist/psychologist/apothecary.
These poems honor the space on the page.

space is breath,

candescence,

chant.

Space is musicality,

is an ostinato

that moves weighted,

equalizes, dances with sound

is steadiness, familiarity.

Non-conventional punctuation, unusual point of view, the abandoned dependant clause, wandering tense, and seamless transitions from the objective to the symbolic are the qualities that beg me to engage with the world of these poems.

Swensen is a poet who does not shy from the substance of past, present, and future history or from the realm beyond what is seen. And she is a poet who challenges this poet to risk.

Perhaps what captures my attention above all is the palpable aromatic of these poems. I find myself isolating, steeping in the sonic: “scenes…mistaken for sails”, “back to the weal (the sun peeled) to a line, which is thin, to a dim/Give it back to him” and “and down into the spiral of our riches/still reign: falots or great pitch lit/at the crossroads/—and thus were we followed/through a city of thieves—which.”

These poems are
contemplative, philosophical,
painterly and poetic
Goest,
if you dare…

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