THE RAIN OF THE ICE by Eric Baus
Published by above/ground press, 2014.
I’m as attuned to Eric Baus’ past work as I am to surrealism or Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Institute, which is another way of saying I’m curious. Both practices, which seek transcendence through the dismantling of context, dutifully serve Baus’ approach on THE RAIN OF THE ICE. As such, these fourteen, conservative-in-structure prose poems are suspended in a volatile, imaginary world where creation is seething and smothered. Each entry acts as an origin but with subjects that often carry over; horses and pupae, like totems, reappear as distorted symbols in a codependent transformation. Attaching meaning to any of it is a daunting proposition, lest you run into a piece like this:
There is no wind, no blood, no sun. There is no sleep.
Not water. Not air. No capital, corpse, or crops. There
are no wolves or waves. No negative rain. Nor blue.
Nor birds. No bodies.
Given that surrealism and deep listening practices better define what isn’t than what is, it makes sense that Baus would snatch up the last assumptions we readers could cling to. And with "ECHO SOLVENT", the storm that has raged in elements and animals throughout much of this chapbook is suddenly sucked into a pinprick on white, a vacuum of lifelessness. What’s left in lieu of context? What represents absence? Clearly the vague summary I’ve gathered for the purposes of this review will only get me so far. The good news is our groundlessness allows Baus’ crisp language to stimulate us more acutely and from unsuspecting angles.
The injured octopus commandeered my limbs. It
furrowed a crown of iron from its sponge dome but I
felt no cruelty in the creature’s cage. The wall of its
body was more an annoyed wave. I was being guided,
rained into a room where a tiny moon arose. I was
being aired out, not raided. I touched the closest
tentacle and felt a burned down candle. We were
sharing an urn that was groomed for the cliffs. Mute
and molting, we grabbed talons. We were born in a
town around the block from our remains. We felt sad
for our hands. We had loved our lost moat.
Each time I read "LOST MOAT" I come away with something new. Does it weave in and out of metaphor or subsist on several, metaphoric skins? Does it really matter? The uneven physicality and iridescent mood of Baus’ struggle proves that his surrealist streak treads with intent, discipline. There's compassion amid the violence, too. Another selection that resists obvious meaning but relishes the journey’s poetic choices is "ALPHA VAULT":
The pupa condensed its peels with plumage. It
unpacked an ambushed breath. It hid in the densest
passage, wearing out the ether inside a downed cloud.
There’s a metamorphosis happening, in all its damp and sour stages, and that’s the draw; the assonance, alliteration and partial rhymes, not whether the transformation pans out. In this regard, THE RAIN OF THE ICE argues for the separation between a strong voice and strong statement. Baus’ engagement is so authoritative, it seems secondary that many of his details fail to coalesce into anything definitive. (Definitive would be missing the point.) Those who crave a tidy conclusion at the bottom of each page may find the indistinctness frustrating but others will delight in the dreamlike manipulation lurking these unassuming skins.