Work Title: A Primer on Parallel Lives
Work Author(s): Dan Gerber
Copper Canyon Press
96 pages, Softcover $15.00
Reviewer: Jeff Gundy
Dan Gerber's poems are something like the fox that graces the cover of this book: quick, graceful, alert to their surroundings, and rarely wasting a motion. The seventh book by this veteran poet, whose work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was featured in The Best American Poetry 1999, is a gathering of vivid, mainly brief, sometimes luminous explorations of the inner workings of time and place.
Early on, Gerber offers epigraphs from Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez ("I am not I. / I am this one standing beside me") and Chinese poet Yang Wan-Li ("The Place I stopped last night is far away and tomorrow, tonight will be last night"). The quotes indicate both the themes of the mysteries of identity and the self, and the influence of Spanish surrealism and Chinese nature poetry on Gerber's work. Many poems in the first section focus on the natural world---"Tracking the Moment," the longest poem in the book, is built from a number of brief sections like one in which three elk trot away "only to put a few boughs, / like another language, between us." Gerber can write wryly and sharply of human events as well, however. In "Times Alone," he observes two women in black dresses laughing in a restaurant and concludes that he "wanted to laugh too, for which, / I'd have given anything."
The second section includes mostly bittersweet evocations of the poet's early life and family. They offer an especially frank and poignant---if troubling---sketch of the mother ("She came to me as a...