Deep Fahrenheit by Amy Gordon


Deep Fahrenheit portrays the process of growing up. In the opening poem, a woman in feudal times stands in a field under the stars and feels the turning of the earth beneath her feet and senses for the first time that she is not the center of the universe and that she is connected to all things. In the final poem, a contemporary woman standing outside at the end of a day, also feels the earth’s turning, and senses not only her own death but the gradual extinction of all things.

The feudal woman can be seen as a child emerging out of her egocentric universe, experiencing the first of many epiphanies. Growth occurs sometimes in shattering moments of disillusion: “Waking Up”, “We Lived in a Child’s Painting,” or in joyful unions, “Let’s Face It” or in quiet moments: “Otter Pond.” These moments might be considered the “Deep Fahrenheit,” where the lens through which the child observes the world is developed.

This is a female lens, a girl-becoming-woman’s response to being raised in a world that at first seemed like child’s painting, complete with red house, yellow sun, and blue lake. By stepping through the metaphorical ice into the muck beneath the surface, she gains a deeper understanding and empathy for the people around her, those she knows intimately and those she observes in passing; she sees climate change, war, school shootings, the disappearance of language; she sees loneliness, aging, abandoned places. She lives with the doleful tune of her own failings as well as the hymns of leaves and cello music. Nature is both a consolation and a teacher—its beauty consoles, its patterns offer inspiration, but its sometimes too-quiet stillness offers a warning that nature, too, is in danger.

This is a world in which all things under the stars are connected to each other and to the stars themselves: a potato field, a painting by Millet, Lays Potato Chips, music, Androcles and the lion, birds in a war-zone, the loneliness of a man on a train, two people in a relationship. The child-woman, even as the sun begins to set, is forever in the process of growing up and like a child, remains a wishful-thinker, forever hoping, as in “If-Quest” for an improved world.

“We need these poems. We need to “Sing to the Boys” and to see “What He Saw.” Gordon’s amazing powers of attention and description open us to the world and each other in new ways, whether it’s to vivid glimpses of past and present in the now, or the myriad sorts of “Mysterious Pull” that we may barely notice. Read the poem “If Quest” with breakfast and it will follow you around all day.” Ellen Doré Watson; Author of pray me stay eager.

“Gordon invites us on a languorous walk, guiding us with her gorgeous ‘new lens.’ Her taut lyrics and wanderer’s narratives reveal mystery without the distraction of mysticism. Memory intrudes and moves thick as knotweed, in elegies and in portraits of the dead or the lost, but this poet’s wisdom and desire move freely, inspiring us, consoling us with her celebrations of land, water, glint of mica. Gordon is a gift.” Judith Vollmer: Author of five books of poetry, including The Apollonia Poems; Four Lakes Poetry Prize of the University of Wisconsin Press, 2017. Vollmer’s poetry and criticism have appeared in Poetry International, The Georgia Review, Poet Lore, The Women’s Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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