Wise Poets, Wise Poets of the Present

Forrest Gander: The 2019 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry

Forrest Gander: The 2019 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry


Forrest Gander is the renown award-winning poet and translator who won this current year’s Pulitzer prize for his book Be With. Be with is a collection of poems dealing with the sorrows of loss and bereavement. In his poem “Ruined Tunnel” he writes about a group of trapped miners who are fighting for their lives in the seemingly endless moment of a mine collapse. And Gander adeptly handles how such a moment can be perceived as a forever moment with his expert use of the word “aorist”, an ongoing past tense such as found in the Spanish language. And like his book this poem broaches the subject of bereavement as the minors dread leaving two people behind.

Ruined Tunnel

One of them             drops radio into hardhat

                               and spits, Damn it,

                               boys, we won’t need this one.

But hell, they had already drilled

the charge. In the dynamite’s

wake, boulders turn to snow.

Men walk through the trees.

            It’s cool now in here.

Quiet enough

to hear tracks rust;

the Monte Ne line that never whistled through

and the summering passengers

unstartled by sudden dark,

the temperature drop.

Stones jut out,

gargoyles scabbed with lichen.

The steamy eye

of an afternoon

watches us from either end.

            We are waylaid by a spell.

A stone

slithers off

or I imagine this.

In the pitch I feel

the others when they breathe.

We are unborn. One

of our silhouettes speaks,

            There’s a camera in the car.

Bats opening like orchids.

The absence of one of us, unimaginable—

our present so intense

its tense is aorist.

Each of us afraid to leave

two men he loves behind.

Gander writes his poetry in a modern lyrical style. A lyrical poem is a highly emotional poem with a musical rhythm that can be sung. A lyre is an ancient Greek stringed musical instrument and is the root word of lyrical. Lyrical poems are often romantic in nature and expressing such strong emotion as love or grief.

Born in 1956 in the Mojave desert town of Barstow, California, his family subsequently moved to the state of Virginia where he grew up and would eventually attend the college of William and Mary where he majored in geology and English Literature. Thus, many of his poems include references to the environment and ecology. Currently, he is a professor of English at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and is the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

A Pulitzer Prize is an American top prize for excellence in journalism, literature, poetry, and music, and the winners are awarded $15,000 dollars with the top journalist being awarded a gold medal. The Pulitzer Prize was instituted by Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant who made his fortune as a newspaper publisher,

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