"'the meaning of the protest is unknown but I long to join in'"

A review of Andrea Baker's like wind loves a window (Slope Editions, 2005)

Jake Kennedy

Baker finds depth in syntactic torsion. Most originally, she complements her dynamic, twisting sentences with akin content. Thus her themes (representation, desire, loss) mirror the word sequences of her lines: "As if a point of interest could be found where in place we are dilated with craving" (1-2). While "As if" takes us down a conventional path, "could be"-with all of its charming indecision-swerves us into new conceptual zones. Throughout like wind loves a window we encounter these agile switches and so are regularly guided into sites of beautiful uncertainty.

The voice in these poems is gentle but emphatic, it really wants to speak to us of sublime places. But in order to express these environments, we gather, the poetry requires trusting readers. For instance, to get the line "where in place we are dilated with craving" demands a giving up of easy lyrical certainties. Baker's "places" are not so much actual romantic locations or nostalgic sites as they are volatile states of openness. Her investigations of longing thus require our own openness to, and confession of, craving-induced "dilations."

Certainly the key trope of like wind is openness. Whether subjects are wandering though lens cap doors, or a window is "wait[ing] to be fed," Baker is fascinated with the power of "entrances." Her poetry is a kind of phenomenology in which a reader enters into corners, moves through shadows, and encounters houses that speak. And though Baker foregrounds reality as artifice, her register is for the most part non-ironic. Moreover, Baker also employs startling enjambments ("I feed you / all my little chairs") and skilful repetitions (insistent words like "breed," "break," and "wind") that tend to intensify both the torsion and ambience of her lines.

In the opening poem "Preface," she writes that, "I put a model of the drink in a model of the cupboard that represents the one in the real world. Try to understand behavior like our own" (2). Representation and reality here get to face each other and stand-off as stand-ins. Again, Baker's goal is not to prove her sardonic distance from the world but rather to address directly issues of loss. This line from "Preface" creates a deep visual effect: to make replica-like the world in order to respect more its exquisite constructedness-a delightful doubling but paradoxical debunking of life. So Baker's mimesis is premised on deft inspections of our reality "diorama." She then often imagines us inside this made-up world and exposes us as simple, desiring doll-like beings. When she writes, for instance, "try to understand behavior like our own" she manages to put the very status of "being" into productive crisis.

Similarly, a line like, "And so we moved him to the place that symbolized the end" (capturing the experience of sending a child to the back of a line) slows down human behavior until we are able to see our ideologies and habits. Baker exposes the arbitrariness and absurdity of such disciplinary devices, but there is a joyousness in this uncovering: we get to see our systems (laws, bodies, behaviors) and are thereby empowered to change them. When Baker writes "I understood something normal; I had no plans for the future" (2) her line verges on satirical coldness but there is always a moving, melancholic warmth to her confessions. She truly does write for the future, with that kind of generosity and care.

Consider the fearless gentleness of these lines: "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" (3). I don't think many other poets could enter into such dangerous image-terrains (children, sunlight) and emerge so brilliantly. Baker's focus here is entirely wistful but, again, her lonely lament betrays nothing of self-regard-her lines, in the widest sense, read as if for you/others. Baker writes, "this life is made / of little wooden places" (37), and I recognize that her poems boast the qualities of the Calder mobile: gentle kinetic sentences spinning in unseen currents.

In the "House" section, Baker uses palimpsests, stick-figure houses, diagrams, erasures, blended type and hand-written text. She writes, "the former yellow house / Hung as an ornament from the ceiling." We are always, she suggests, ghosted by these others and we hang them up as souvenirs of the past. Baker shows us our strange pride in where we have been and also how we taunt ourselves with loss. Perhaps this is so because, as we leave things behind, they move into the unknown taking parts of us with them. Baker's word-images recreate our recreations, show us our "draft" nature under revision but also the quality of invisibilities of air (wind) pushing through the window.

In "II. coming home poem," she writes that,

each rote sunset has a moment

catches itself collapsing

and no one has ever called
the procedure
by name

Numerous exquisite things get tallied as procedures in like wind loves a window and still, in their mechanicalness, they carry honest, striking force. I trust Andrea Baker as a poet-philosopher. She says, "an extreme must be synonymous with its own reversal" (55). And her equivalencies here are not to cinch definitive reality but rather to disorder all of my taken-for-granted materials. Thanks to like wind, when I look around (at the room or the street or the lover), I might just recognize all facets of my world as ever-dilated, yearning.

e-mail the poet at jakedavidkennedy@gmail.com
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