I get into Cole Swensen’s Gravesend slightly late, in 2014, while reading the first interview poem in the collection (“Interview Series 1”). The poem, like the rest of the slim volume, is set in Gravesend, England, and holds onto what people say, often ghost stories and other small-town talk. As I read, I begin to imagine myself traveling to England to listen to people. Being egocentric by inserting myself into their world yet open-minded by looking around me is a dual hand that, if ever realized, would mirror how I take off from Swensen’s poem to write my reaction to it. I want to be present in the pub and in the poem, my focus on anyone else. The fantasy is no more interior than my ear; the work is about the grog-sound inside. These two almost-physical things make me the reader I am. I find I enjoy the gaps in this poem and the ones to follow (“Walking Through,” “A Face,” “Toward the End,” etc.). The ghost reaches me.
Gravesend by Cole Swenson
UC Press, 2012, Paperback