“As a body would be, one all together”:
Andrea Baker. Like Wind Loves a Window.
Slope Editions: 2005. $14.95.
The authority of memory becomes tenuous when confronted with the imagination. Moral or not, the transformational power wins out, that is, until a singular vision/delusion is attained. The part of irony is to provide as apparent objective unity that results solely from subjective assertion: "An echo is a mountain."
Like Wind Loves a Window releases an immaculately compressed freedom into the world. While Stevens asserted out of the phenomenological world, creating a rhetorical allegory across a mental pasture (inhabited by rabbits, candles, studies, angels), Baker asserts within phenomena perceived, an inverted negative capability by which all becomes assimilated into the “body” of the perceiver, admitting subjectivity into the poem while declining to separate perception from object. Between the mind and the world, action and belief synthesize, or occur in precise symbiosis, which gives the functions of the mind the authority to impress upon the world while the world impresses upon it.
Baker begins her book by trying to reduce perception to analysis of it, to create a realm of “removed” observation, an ironic procedure which she follows faithfully to its inevitable failure, thus succeeding in proving the mercies of perception as a grace in itself: “In the real room the children kept moving.” Examining human functions (hunger, lust, etc), likewise concludes in inconclusiveness for any singular force other than the act of perceiving.
In the story of the children there was a day when they were all outside playing and we were playing with them in the sun, thinking how long will we be able to live on the outside. Only we didn’t know what we believed.
Consequently, unknowing becomes an intricate part of perception.
To explain Baker’s intentions would be misleading, as she seems to be led by her ability to confront whatever comes before her in its essential elements (motion, purpose, symbolic resonance). As adeptly as she turns the external world inward, in “gilda” she gives interior impulses outward forms: "gilda is a white-throat child/a thrown open door-child/a missing in the attic child"
Though the expansiveness of her images’ evocations resembles Whitman’s kosmic intuitions and recalls Blake, Baker’s instinct (and gift) is to condense: "pull your face off/from the tattooed face" and "even/jaw off//my own/jawed face."
She’s brilliant in her self-awareness conceived in images: “my broken egg eyes.” Whatever comes before her turns into a microcosmic and subjective reflection of the initial object, which expands perspective to vastest proportions and gives possibility and imagination dominion over knowability and memory. Even “the unreal mirror” is granted a realistic presence as image conceived. “gilda” ends in a reconciliation of reality and image through a sensuous evocation of the spiral (ecstasy, masochism, and doom wound into the inevitable maybeness of what appears at once implosive and entropic).
Following that apocalypse of perception, “House” takes a dreamy form as a visual text. Given over to its content, House becomes a character in the poem, a body, and, sketched around pieces of the text, has a presence equal to the hand-written words. Unknowing is the central action of the poem (“the meaning of the protest is unknown/but I long to join in”), and becomes the symmetrical balance of one with many: "birds hang/Suspended/Like a bird hangs," recalling the “unreal mirror.”
The pieces of Baker’s allegory are so complete in themselves and competent in their relations to each other that gilda and the object-character House converse in a play, “Whose hunt has yet to fair: a script for gilda and her house.” Speaking in ambiguously symbolic cryptic iterations, gilda and House chat as if to destroy the eye and ear, like mine, which attempts to retell the sensual entities of Baker’s language and assign them an impossible meaning beyond the finality of presence.
The second “gilda” remakes what in the mind should always be remade, the duplicate interior “self,” not an expansion or overcrowding by compression to essential perception of, but something like Whitman in reverse, reduction which contains multitudes: “nothing quiet/and nothing deaf.”
“Migration” emerges from “gilda” by finding odd or surreal imagery in a return to normal perspective. Men dress up as birds and hang out below airplane wings. The sun, not the mind, turns the men into metaphors. The mind, contrarily, recognizes, “I am nested in the cardboard beak of what is not a bird,” yet requires the metaphor of a piano song to describe its predicament. Having abandoned distinction between perception and object, Baker attempts undauntedly to use perception as a vehicle for self-identification, as in “There is a fragrance in the air to tell you how you feel.”
In the final poems, “not a bird” and “body,” Baker resists the easy turn toward language as a final resting place for the self, but puts forth language suggestive and a part of a unity upon which metaphor has a negating impact through its distinctions between the two objects compared. Rather, she asserts, like Blake, the visionary possibilities of the visual: “every sight is an instrument/to absorb us” and “to breath light instead of air.” She ends in a place beyond Stevens’ hope in resemblances, in an acceptance that images real and metaphorical shall continue: "the sheep dissolve into mountains/they cannot stop entering/nothing can stop" through transformation: "the sheep disappear/into whispers//like fumes of silence."
Baker’s perceiver, defined by all the human capacities to hunger, love, want, etc., sets off again into the phenomena from which perception cannot have a separate existence, and instead of “self” seeks “you.”
--Review by Matthew Henriksen.