Review: A HISTORY OF WAVES by Haines Eason

Oct 19, 2010 | Archive, Reviews

A History of Waves

Haines Eason

2010

Poetry Society of America

25 pages

Review by J. KIRK MAYNARD

Haines Eason’s first chapbook A History of Waves (selected by Mark Doty for the 2010 New American Poets chapbook series) begins with a displacement:

Who touched who with which mouth? If I remembered backward
it would go something like “his gentle answers stir me up to anger
for a want of time.” Should you share me?

This begins the first poem of a crown of sonnets—a sequence whereupon a line within one sonnet is repeated in the consecutive sonnet—that retraces the emotional and philosophical gamut of a failed relationship. The history of A History of Waves is consequence; the speaker-poet looking back to the places where love and conflict reside and working to determine new independence through the discovery of what was lost.

Here is an excerpt of the second poem, “Somniloquy:”

Arrested in the hand, a thing sweet lashes
black. My lover has become the cruelest shape : twilight.

He would open our corner windows each night, unclasp
the house from the city and frame new passages

against the backs of my eyes. In conversation
I bore knotted leaves he pruned away. [3]

In Eason’s poems, emotion is tangible within organic symbols that torment and appease. Every image is of salvation and destruction and the speaker, perhaps realizing this balance, is always returning to the initial confusion of where imbalance lies (“I swear my love’s errant. Or is the silhouette in me.” [3]); each poem is of a love strained, the lover’s in a competition of emotional control. Of course, that is a ruse: whereas the beloved is a peculiar force in the book—the ability to be Herculean as well as physically frail—it is the emerging poet who is in control, deftly keeping the reader enthralled by the jagged realities of the lovers’ world through metrically tempered and smooth poetics. Eason’s strength is in the world he allows to be created, and what he intends the reader to witness within his world.

Usually, this is done with such rhythmic beauty and jarring syntax that we can go along without questioning . . . almost. Here, for instance, are two lovely stanzas that begin the poem “In Memory Of:”

Let me gather my self and walk on :
neither is my spine straight,

neither is it a precious thing—whitewash cradle
tacky to the touch. Back at the beginning—
let’s return to that shout and stomp. (12)

With a wink the poet opens a door just enough before shutting it and syntactically pulling the proverbial rug from beneath us – for this reader, in the most pleasurable way possible. Another way Eason keeps control is how the speaker-poet blurs himself enough so that the reader is never quite sure of the physical line between the lovers. This is Eason’s flirtation: through continual sidestepping Eason maintains our attention and the upper hand. From the same poem as above:

Who is here
is me. Lover, and the abandoned.
Person hitching, and person at the wheel. (13)

The poet-speaker refuses to let the beloved have control, seeking independence by claiming the opportunities and actions of both. This is in defiance of most love poems, in which the beloved hovers around the poem, an ethereal presence. In A History of Waves, the presence we feel is Eason’s.

Only once in the course of the chapbook does Eason let his guard down enough for us to see a level of distrust in the reader and the need to keep his reader off-balanced and enchanted in order to maintain control. In “A Laying on of Hands:”

He feels a darkness coming. Bone
scraping bone. Moans fill the stranger
within this curse. Stranger courses of events
nightly pass into a dark apartment—
gropes prescriptions : physicians plying him
with cocktails. Measures in mirrors, strangles
life from lemony bilious flavors. Garnish.
Grips lamps shut, drags my shadow into his,
winding us together, around the source,
my kneading touch eases darker hues out
his groaning self, sweating into pale
remembrances of flesh. Nodes beneath
refigure—muscle. Unclamp. Sickened store
in current dim. Hush his blazing core.

Where the poet-speaker asks for our sympathy again – “drags my shadow into his” – it is too late: our sympathies are with the suffering lover. That this intimate poem is written for our eye borders on the obscene; we sense that the poet-speaker is very conscious about who the reader is and how to keep the reader off-balanced and led along, steered down corridors the poet wants us to see, unlocking rooms only the poet wants us to look into. The above poem illustrates a room the poet never intended us to view.

As Eason notes, A History of Waves is in conversation with and dedicated to D.A. Powell. Similarly, Powell’s most recent book, Chronic (Ecco, 2009) was dedicated to Eason. The quote above, “neither is my spine straight,” is in response to Powell’s “[my back is not straight. I have cradled the precious crutched and crutchless. crippled streets].” The independence of Eason’s voice, as he hammers home time and again in the chapbook, is “a boy snapping lacquered // sheets, he pulls too hard as the horizon moves” (11, “Paper Kisses, Paper Moon”), or bearing “knotted leaves he pruned away” (3). It is a voice juxtaposing another: “If you’re a stranger, I am— / I won’t accept any laying on of hands, and my grave also / stares me to my senses (“Word for Word, 7).” As Eason’s lovers are entwined, so is Eason’s chapbook entwined with Powell’s work. This is the nervous energy that accompanies the poet-speaker, a self-conscious reaction to the tether. What we can look forward to in the future (and I look forward to it eagerly) is Eason’s first full-length book of poetry that will be free of the tether and for Eason to carry his own song.

What kind of poetry is in store for us from this new poet? A History provides us with a panoramic view of form and image shimmering. Eason’s poems are brave and intentional, intelligent while remaining realistically anchored, utilizing symbols that are neutral in their morality and strike a balance while the syntax leaves the reader wonderfully off balance:

The idea—roses. The flesh—thickets of bamboo.

Could either find the fault line and force open a love,
they would, but sweating, neither can [21].

Get ready. I believe we’ve just had the debut of a powerful new voice in modern poetry.