“For Cao Fei, including utopia” | Magazine

For this year’s edition of our poetry project, we asked poet Ada Limón to select nine distinguished American poets to respond to works of art in the Museum’s collection. Here, Forrest Gander shares his poem inspired by Cao Fei Including utopia.

Extract from Cao Fei. Including utopia. 2006. © 2021 Cao Fei. Courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space

For Cao Fei, Including utopia

Behind it all, the ratchet artery
pulse of machines. My pupils are fixed
in place, as by needles,

about the task at hand. At hand,
tungsten filament synovial membranes, contact wire,
glass bulbs filled with gas. An orchestra

ringing. Until, as invoked
of my collective hours of concentration,
a little post-birth of monotony,

the unexpected enters the room like a pair
gods sheathed in silence, miracles
breaking the precariousness

the membrane between the habit and
dream. Him with his pivoting step, she
pulling his shoulders back. Their inner stillness

adds magnanimity to their movements. Supernatural, pre-
hypnotic, incomprehensible,
mustard blossoms rippling in a charred field. How? ‘Or’ What

can I look away? My eyes don’t have eyelids. Yes
I give them just a minute of my attention, I wonder
if i could get out of what broke inside me

1. Why did you choose this work of art?
On my way to the museum to find the work of art that I had researched and selected for my poem accompaniment, I walked through the room where Cao Fei’s film was being shown, and I stood there, and then I walked through the room. sat there for the next hour watching the movie over and over, wiping the tears from my eyes. He chose me.

2. What was your approach to writing a poem about this?
I tried to open myself completely to the rhythms, the different moods and the poignant impact of Cao Fei’s film, and to write something that could serve as a basic sample of its emotional depth.

Forrest Gander, writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, was born in the Mojave Desert and lives in northern California. His books, often devoted to ecology, include Be with, winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2019, the novel The trace, and Twice alive, fresh out of New Directions. Gander’s translations and co-translations include Alice Iris Red Horse by Gozo Yoshimasu, Show and pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, and Then Come Back: The Lost Poems of Neruda. He has received grants from the Library of Congress and the Guggenheim, Howard, Whiting, and United States Artists Foundations.