Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday Night Delights

Eric Baus
Bee-Stung Aviary
([no place]: further adventures, 2010)
5.5" x 6" / unpaginated [14 pages of text]
Eric Baus
at the
Studio One Reading Series

Oakland, California
August 6, 2010

Eric Baus read last night at Oakland’s Studio One monthly “First Friday” series. “Baus in the house,” as neo-surrealist-symbolist-decadent-wag Garrett Caples (sitting front row with Andrew Joron) neatly and rhyming-ly put it while host Clay Banes introduced the poet to the 40 or so folks who came out.

Baus’s poems are best appreciated with his voice, his actual speaking voice, in the ear and mind. I can’t stress how gentle it is. It is not meek or docile gentle, but a kind, nuturing, and almost quiet gentle. Well, if these words of mine don’t do it, please listen to one or more of the mp3s of Baus reading available at PennSound.

I’d come to the Studio One reading straight from a long week’s double-tough end: a 12 hour stint at the office, much of it at the desk, in which I’d taken in and put down in writing a hugely unhealthy amount of facts and engaged in a lot of “first-this-and-thus- next-that” kind of rigidly logical thinking. As such, I was grateful – very grateful – to hear Baus’s nuturing, calming, almost hypnotic voice, and grateful too for the places the poems took me.

Baus read exclusively last night from an in-progress manuscript of prose poems titled Bee-Stung Aviary. A small part of this – ten short poems, each a blocked-paragraph consisting of between four and eight mostly non-compound sentences – was published earlier this year, in a nicely made (see the silk-screened cover) chap that’s bill-boarded above. Three other poems from the manuscript, including the marvelous three page “Negative Noon” (which Baus read last night) were published last year in the ixnay reader volume four (click here and go to page 70 of the PDF).

It’s hard to describe the poetry in Bee-Stung Aviary, and the same’s true, for me at least, of that in Baus’s previously published books (he has two full-length collections (see note below), the first of which was published in 2004).

So – in a move that I beg you will not disfavor as harsh, rude, bad-mannered, or an act of cyber-bullying, I am going to get NEGATIVE, as negative as I can get, about Baus’s poetry.


Eric Baus writes not-nursery not-rhymes, not (just)-bedtime not-stories. Not-stable not-fore-ordained not-flat not-tied-up-ends. Not-bowed-‘n-ribboned not-one-way not-tombed not not-knots ‘n not nothing not-never neither.

Got it? Well, do you, good reader of the glade?

And so without further not-ado, here’s a poem copied/scanned from Bee-Stung Aviary. “Flare Nouns Flare” is the title, and while it does not begin, “Once upon a time,” it does start with the suggestion of a story, and no-joke the poem does seem to have a kind of narrative, although (oh no here I not-stop again) it’s not the A-B-C straight-line kind tale but rather more like an E to R to I to C space/pause B to A to U to S adventure:

Did you read this – do you hear it – as it would be spoken by Baus? Gentle reader, gently I ask, read it again, gently, maybe even a touch slow and with a soft lilt, like an almost-whispered lullaby:

This poem may be – and I lean heavily here on things Baus has said in interviews – a “diorama” in which sound and words and thought echo, a kind of “playground” of language. Here’s some of the fun I’ve had here, focusing only on some of the letter groupings and sounds (this I think needs no explanation):

There’s also in this poem, among other things, the fun of the unusual adjective-noun-verb combo of the title (repeated in the first sentence), the weird way you want to – or I need to – read “wonder” for “wander” in the next-to-last line, and the final homophonic “herd” which obviously rings back to the ears right above it.

I don’t know that this poem has a meaning – however, go ahead and get one if you can. I take “Flare Noun Flares” as a thing unto itself, and thus subject to nothing but itself. A sort of collaged movie of words, echoes, and ideas that, as with do most by Baus, takes me in its gentle way to the hypnagogic gates where logic and the familiar cross into more intuited inner experiences.

That’s the way it all came through this past Friday night. Baus read close to 20 poems from his Bee-Stung Aviary manuscript, for what seemed around 20 or 30 minutes. I was with him all the way. My scattered notes – it was just not possible to resist the voice and so the pen did not move much – include matters such as “teal casket” and “a mist of yes” and “the topiary trap” and “amber anemones bloom shards” and much else that transports standing alone, lifted from a poem.

But really, it’s the experience of each of Baus’s poems, and all of them together (the poems tend to speak or echo between themselves) that really makes it. The whole thing, or each of them, isn’t a dream, but it’s sure as heck not not one either. And this, to me, results in a poetry that’s pure, and refreshing, and rejuvenating, especially when heard or read at the end of a long tough week.


Eric Baus

Baus’s previous two full-length collections are The To Sound (Amherst, MA: Verse Press, 2004) and Tuned Droves (Brooklyn and Portland, OR: Octopus Books, 2008).
An informative interview with Baus, done in 2009 by Cynthia Arrieu-King, can be read in Jacket 37, here; another interesting question and answer exchange with him, done last month for Studio One by Trevor Calvert, is here.



Curtis Faville said...

The questions which Baus's work raises are the same ones raised by Clark Coolidge's work beginning about 25 years ago (as in Solution Passage). Words used for senses other than their assigned definitions. Ashbery set all this in motion with Tennis Court Oath, even though his use of words always retained vestiges or echoes of probable grammatical sense, underneath the patter of peculiar sound and ricocheting associations.

"The bar man squirted juice over the lumps."

--which explodes with hidden or different imaginative echoes while still being about something specific initially. The substitution of "juice" in place of water or alcohol, and "lumps" in place of ice cubes opens up new senses of the event that didn't exist before, or if they did, reveals them possibly for the first time.

I think we can all write poems like this, so it (our appreciation and ranking) comes down to a degree of interest generated inside this genre. I never thought Coolidge had a corner on that market, but he certainly had a terrific command. There's only so much of that I can take before I hunger for real sense. Ultimately, I like poetry which explores the mysterious with direct tools, rather than a busy surface which resists reference and a narrative (however obscure).

Foust treads that edge very discretely.

Steven Fama said...

The poetry of Eric Baus, I think, is his own. If precursors and similar travelers are to be traced, I’d look back further than the Coolidge of Solution Passages (go to Bond Sonnets of the mid-1960s), and many well before any of that, including the fable-istic prose poems of Patchen and the writings of many in the 1920s and 1930s (the surrealists and the like).

Medical and and governmental health organizations recommend a balanced diet. The same approach applies to reading poetry and the differents ways of taking in and “making sense” of the world. Positivist, purely rational, message-driven (think advertising) writing dominates our consciousness, and so too that way of thinking. And so I insist on the importance of poetry in general, and in particular writing such as that published and read aloud by Baus.

I also think assemblage artists such Bruce Conner (his collage films) should be considered when thinking about Baus’s poems. In this regard, if you want to do a compare and contrast, think on and write about the differences and similarities between Baus’s poems and or other purposefully and heavily assembled texts, including certain by Coolidge and by others, including for example the poetry of I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) by Bruce Andrews. I don't see the same questions being raised by these texts, even though similarly made. They are all highly different, and all wondrous.