A radiant new book-length sequence chronicling the ways observation creates landscape
Influenced by the history of landscape painting, Cole Swensen’s new book is an experiment in seriality, in the different approach and scope that language must take to record the way that fluctuations of minutiae transform a whole. These poems meditate on what it is simply to look at the world, without judgment, without intervention, without appropriation. Swensen’s lyric observations, lilting and delicate, distill the act of seeing.
Swensen’s poetry documents a penetrating ‘intellectus’—light of the mind—by turns fragile, incandescent, transcendent.
It is the subtle crash of verbs and nouns in this book which undoes the potentially simple observations from a train and makes landscape, light, color, and language open themselves to new possibilities. Swensen’s uses of timed instants pitted against instants of prolonged time play with the seen, so transformations are not just visual, but temporal. Landscapes are stopped, shrunken, held in the palm of a hand.
Swensen explores the fault lines between seeing and saying, subject and object, and her investigation of perception deepens as the book “turns back on itself” in surprising ways… Swensen’s powers of description transform what could easily be an academic exercise into an aesthetic journey that for many readers will be worth taking for the sights and sounds alone.
These poems are conscious of their existence as bodies, and the particularity of their shape and position on the page allow the reader to examine the ways in which the image of the poem, as a kind of graphic work, colors our reading of the language… By pulling multiple genres into collaboration, Swensen, in the form of her verse, experiments with the different conceptual tools required in order to capture the motion of a landscape through language.
Cole Swensen has published 17 volumes of poetry and a collection of critical essays, Noise That Stays Noise. A collection of hybrid poem-essays, Art in Time, from which this …