With all the weight of future uncertainties — predictions of ever greater social despair, economic collapse, another world war, concerns for the end of natural resources and therefore the wildernesses that sustain all of us — Dan Gerber’s Particles: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, September 2017) is a deeply human meditation both timely and timeless. The glory of this new and selected work is that the world is born again each moment as consciousness lights upon it: “[C]onversations / about the worlds of which things are made, // stilled now to become just the things / themselves, the purling and the rings // of water reaching out from our casts…” (“To Jim from the River”). This is the great task at hand and the well-honed craft of Gerber’s poetry: that he approaches the world with a learned acceptance and sustained wonder bridged with an abiding compassion for all its inhabitants.
The new poems in Particles appear to focus largely on the search for the center of the self — to reach it so that we may fall away into pure being. Here, the hope for the world to remain one with itself, the hope for humanity to return to the world. Particles is a book that gives greater clarity of expression to our desire of belonging and search for sacred reasoning. As written in “Letter to Jim about Woodpeckers”: “I’ve been reading a dense book on / our best guess about what might have / happened in the first three seconds / of existence.” To touch these things and arouse expectation is to better find one’s place in the world, to better see the world as the world is, to meet a thing where it’s at, bring it into the heart, and let it go wherever, however it will — “ … flickers // and fades, flickers again, / and glows” (“Old Books”).
This collection is representative of a vast universe, and yet so intimate are Gerber’s poems, so personal and honest his voice, that they come to feel like our own experiences. Gerber’s orbit is astonishing, his scale and range magnifies and pans out in the turn of a line, as is seen in “A Flea in Late Life” and “Dust II.” His excellence carries forward into how he encompasses here and elsewhere at once, the way we are ourselves and otherwise: “your good right eye / watching for the rise of a life. // Your blind left, not too far / downstream, already absorbed // in that dark river light into which / we’re constantly rowing” (“To Jim from the River”). With all of this, what matters is the moment, and because “the future happens every moment,” new possibilities are always present, an alternative is forever happening.
This is a collection that takes the small things of the world and holds them, examines them, forms a new point of contact gained through metaphor, and is aware, as in “The Atom of the Actual,” that “the poem is not about / anything but being, as it is, / a lens for our perception of / the occasion of its being … ” In “From a Ridge on Figueroa Mountain,” Gerber writes: “everything that comes here / seems so easily lost […] I want to see where this new life goes, / whether it becomes a flower or a weed, / torn free now and alone … ”
Like a particle, briefly exquisite, in the light, now shadow, and alight.
Z.G. Tomaszewski, born in 1989 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has two books of poems, All Things Dusk (International Poetry Prize winner selected by Li-Young Lee and published by Hong Kong University Press, 2015), the chapbook Mineral Whisper (Fini