Monday, December 21, 2009



Tuned Droves by Eric Baus
(Octopus Books, Portland, OR and Brooklyn, N.Y., 2008)

Being able to attenuate the ear from behind a variously constructed partition is key, for the speaker and reader of Tuned Droves; in the first section the reader is told the tell-tale signs of a “perfect listener.” From “The Wires Led to a Hive”: “Think of something quieter. Child-flower, bed-flower, the long pause/ her name created./ If a singer neglects her title long enough to lose her tone, the first of/ many eyes emerge./ This is the sign of a perfect listener.”

In Baus’ world, not only speech, but being, is created by projection. Thus, there is a danger implicit in quietude, yet the world the speaker inhabits is one in which silence, as in a game of hide-and-seek, is often necessary. Certain passages in this collection halve sonically, such as the last word “stream” in an untitled prose poem from the section “I Know the Letters This Way,” easily misread, during the first reading, as “scream”: “Do you want to hear my second sound is her shortest sound . . . A tone beside another. They think they have seen my name before. It was here. It was here. We heard it. It was here before they started swimming. Look. We have similar streams.”

The fragility of wire communication and the ecosystem, in which whole universes can shift with the alteration of one word or species, is the weighty axis upon which this tensile collection of verse rests. Directives are given readily: “Do not call out the conductor’s name. Do not repeat the perfect page . . . Be still. Do not discuss the continuous corner.” Cosmic definitions are also proffered with mathematical precision, such as “the core of any sonar is silence,” or, from “The Formation of Flowers”: When a phonograph and a projector converge, they conceive two distinct components: echoes and antennae.” The speaker’s authority comes to a hilt when he coins the most revolutionary vehicle since the Model T-Ford: a “non-lethal ambulance.” “The mandatory distance from the non-lethal ambulance is one hundred solid digits. Keep that in mind. The minimum time for hive transfers is half of half of that.”

Characters are alluded to in the most generic of terms: a man and a woman. The woman is also referred to as “Miss” or “Miss Toy” and the [a] man, as a “king without subjects.” The fringe benefits of naming are delimitation, yet, as there is also violence in this art of naming, Baus again advises caution: “When I write her name is a secret name, the wax removed lets some-/thing tumble over me from the air.”

Entire sections of the book have a subaqueous feel, as if written in utero; communication thereby is reduced from song to speech to gesture, then further reduced to whatever form of dissolution comes after that: “How do I know there is going to be an accident. I can no longer speak with my hands.”

A world in which the bee and the tortoise “survive as obstacles to grammar and song” is a fraught world, wherein the chief peril is not to mankind, nor really even to nature, but to the text, where ambushes by vultures and wolves menace the dark undergrowth surrounding the oft-referenced “perfect page.” Receptive listening becomes, in this context, not an idle pastime, but an imperative. In Baus’ work, the objective of the speaker is not what, but rather who, to listen for. From the penultimate poem “They Showed a Film of Walking to Water”:
“She was folding her arms to make a mirage, touching the snow in a/ sentence. She knows I know I will disappear tonight, a time-lapsed/ splash in my place./ Inside any good song is a small piece of snow is the one I am listening/ for.”


Virginia Konchan's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Believer, The New Republic, Notre Dame Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is a contributing reviewer for The Rumpus and ForeWord Magazine.

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