I first learned of Cole Swensen’s The Book of a Hundred Hands when we looked at a few of the poems in a poetry class taught by Sarah Vap. Our exercise: To write a poem that used the word “hand” as many times as possible.*
But this book is not at all like that. Here, in 100 poems, we find a marvel of investigation and invention, close attention spiraling out in widening contexts has been a delight–a privilege to share in such close attention and widening contexts (Positions of the Hand, Professions of the Hand, American Sign Language, Possible Paintings of Hands). Such range!
What surprised me most was the way images of glass weave through the book–perhaps a precursor to her book The Glass Age.
I want to share one of my favorites, but I offer it with an apology: two of the lines will not fit, so that is why they look odd here.
The Hand as Window
in which the panes infinitesimal. By the thousands, the armies of the ancient world
got older. A sweeping sensation mistaken for wind. You opened the window.
You thought that would do.
This is not so different from certain congenital conditions in which
You open the window. There is more you can see through. For instance, if the body
is 98% water and the window looks out on an ocean
is the hand in all its facets
*That exercise became the second section of my poem “Signatures.”