Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Forrest Gander found inspiration for his latest collection, Twice Alive, by studying lichen—a living organism that has both plant and fungal qualities—and how the melding of different species to make something new resembles the intimate relationships between humans. Drawing from his education in geology and knowledge of spiritual texts, Gander compares personal hardships to wildfires that wreak havoc yet lead to renewal, imbuing his poems with a sense of hope.
This article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Alta Journal.
Your background is in literature and geology, which could be called an unlikely combination. Are they more similar than one might expect?
With geology, I learned how to look at the large scale—say, the faulted, uplifted strata of Sonoma Mountain—while keeping in mind and correlating the small scale: say, the microscopic minerals making up the loam there. That shifting back and forth between scales of perception turns out to be a characteristic feature of my poems.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary poets?
On the wall next to my desk, you’ll find photographs I’ve taken of some of my favorite poets who happen to live in California: Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, Hiromi Itō, and Gary Snyder. I need to start adding the youngbloods to my photographs.•