Friday, May 11, 2012

SCARED TEXT by Eric Baus

Center for Literary Publishing, 2011. Central question: Is the dictionary a bible that is an animal or a story that is a name? This is the question, or a variant of, that Eric Baus’ Scared Text poses, or disposes of, calling upon language as a semantic menagerie in which meaning and sound, mythology and etymology, definition and transformation swarm, dissolve, and amalgamate, revealing the ontological tension within the acts of speaking and writing. The poem “A Delphi” introduces Minus and Iris, figures/apparitions/word-animals who are as much their own definitions as ghosts of Baus’ pluralized “I,” and the characters from which these poems hang their dream-like narrative, literalizing the poet’s interest in absence as presence and the fallibility of our primary sense. 

Minus tried to write his own bible. It began, So what, saliva. So what, 

Iris told us her dad died in space. The whited-out vowels rang in my     
     ears. Stupid moon. Stupid burned-up blind spot. 

The doctors said his name had burned up. We never knew how it 

Baus’ direct statements hypnotize without confounding, building a world of spiritual breakage in which “Minus’s bible was reading itself,” and “I woke up behind the sky.” Governed by paradox and repetitions that accumulate but don’t cohere, “A Delphi” does best what all of these poems do by walking the line between narrative and non sequitur, quelling the difference by making it extraordinary, a bit blooming, a bit explosion, the same. Injecting each syntactically simple phrase with its own lyric dissidence, Baus allows each (prose) ((yes and no)) poem to move both inward to the music of each sentence and outward to the illusory movements of the whole collection. Indeed, the book's obsession with the distinction, or lack of distinction, between name and namelessness, animate and inanimate, turns every word into an amplification of its own semantic struggle between meaning and noise. “Inscribed, blighted, tongue filled with snow. A throat so other I entered my name,” Baus writes, paralleling language and the act of speaking with the need for identity and articulation that is so often stunted or stunned by the inability of language to let us out of its own Bosch-like incongruity. And like taking in a Bosch painting, reading Baus can leave you a little scared, or sacred, depending on how your eyes feel it.


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