The To Sound by Eric Baus

Verse Press, 2004
Poetry is an art of connections.  Metaphor, being one of its most powerful tools in the poet’s toolbox, allows for unusual and often unexpected connections.  But what happens when an author takes this act one, or even five steps further?  What happens is that you may find yourself reading a book like The To Sound.

In Eric Baus’ debut book of poetry, he weaves a neo-surrealist web of birds, sodium, silhouettes, and sisters (to name just a few of the disparate images).  Grounded within a series of epistolary-styled poems, written to an alternating audience of either “birds” or a “sister,” Baus requests much of the reader in making sense of his language and direction.  If Hemingway utilized the Iceberg Theory in his fiction, than Baus’ poetry offers only the reflection of the tip of the iceberg breaching above the water’s surface.

What Baus asks for is that the reader actively participates in the reading of The To Sound.  He isn’t willing to hold the reader’s hand on a narrative course, filled with careful descriptions and logical progressions.  The reader is, in fact, lucky when they happen to come across a complete sentence.  What the book asks for, instead, is active participation and a willingness to experience the vague and the unknown, the unclear.  A reader must be willing, and mildly comfortable, with being unsure.  In discussing the book’s accessibility, Baus stated in an interview how “once they [readers] stop turning it into The Wasteland and turn it into music they listen to while doing the dishes, something with which they can have a gradual, ambient experience with something new opens us; that has made me really happy.”

Many readers will encounter The To Sound and set out to solve it like a puzzle.  But I advise them to put away their detective tools.  Despite any Herculean effort, they will, nonetheless, fail.  Baus did not construct his book as a surrealist façade or complex-for-the-sake-of-complexity type of book; he is not muddying the waters to make them appear more profound.  Instead, he seeks to create a new language, a new atmosphere, and perhaps most of all, new connections.  One can compare Baus to a bird assembling its nest with disparate materials.  A bird may make use of twigs and plastic from soda bottles, while Baus uses lines and images such as: “To collapse our necks with glass. To pronounce the latent hive in her chest.” Baus assembles his poems with unlike materials, disparate images, and as a result, allows the readers to make these connections on a personal level; they are allowed to interpret, on a personal level, what these poems “mean.”

Not to suggest that Baus’ poetry is entirely subjective, there is a consistent theme of loss and longing, confusion and miscommunication.  In one of the epistolary poems addressed to his “Dearest Sister,” Baus expresses this deep sense of absence and the inconclusive result in attempting to make sense of it: “I don’t need to trace your outline in my fogged up windows to watch water break in the bodies around me.”  Baus openly admits, and spends ample time musing, on this inability to access or easily communicate with another.  And this, perhaps, is where the surrealist language and structure comes into play.  One can picture a frustrated and hopeless poet at his desk, trying and trying again to make honest connections, until he is forced to abandon conventional language in preference for one of his own.  And thus, The To Sound is born.

Baus’ debut book of poems is one that thrives in the unacknowledged spaces in the world; truly, it is “the space between magnets.”  The unspoken and unacknowledged connections are highlighted in this book, and as a result, allows the reader to not only form new connections between ideas and images, but to also reassess previously understood connections.

This is not an easy book.  This is not poetry that gazes up at the stars and contemplates on the beauty and eternal mysteries of the world.  This is poetry, instead, that looks up at the stars and wonders what exists in that invisible air between the eyes and the light.
ZACHARY LUNDGREN is a MFA student in poetry at the University of South Florida.  He received his BA in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder and grew up in northern Virginia.  He has had poetry published in several literary journals and magazines including The Stray Branch, The Tule Review, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, the University of Colorado Honors Journal, and was nominated for the 2012 AWP Intro Journals Award.  He received the Estelle J. Zbar Poetry Prize in 2012.