Ears, by Jared Stanley. Nightboat Books, March 2017. 96 pages. $15.95, paper.
I guess I should begin this review with a kind of caveat. I love Jared Stanley. He was one of my poetry professors at Sierra Nevada College, he was my project advisor, and he guided me into the poetry community with friendship and grace. It is safe to say that I would not be who I am today without Jared’s influences. That being said, it is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to present you with a review of his latest book.
Jared Stanley is a wizard, and a master of the garden path sentence. In the latest collection of his, Ears, he invites the reader to listen to the resonances each word in his spells make as they follow their somatic path through the line break and dissolve into dreamsong. When Stanley creates these marvelous sentences he welds together the affects of sound, the registers of the eye, and the emotive responses of desert landscapes his speakers find themselves in. In “In Pierces” the speaker proclaims
I am a watching creature my
habitat the entropic demand of
decorative tail of a Chinese
Spaniel hachiya-orange in bare
trees, a raccoon’s corpse changed
to coyote’s muscle, to ant’s blood.
And we see how the speaker’s astute observations break through time as they become a creature of the earth and its hard, precious jewels. They find the passage of decay to be an instant, not a process, in relation to the geologic forces which shape desire, command attention, and demand the speaker’s resignation to the aether. While his poems often evoke a kind of geologic pastoral, Stanley refuses to fall into the romantic traps of longing and return.
For all the frank somatic wonder that Stanley infuses in his poetry, there exists a kind of contemplative ease with which the reader can enter his poems. Stanley’s speakers take your mind (or ear), not unlike a wizard to a hero, through landscape and thought. The poem “Abundance” begins with the end of the world: “I like to think the world is dead and / Pretty when fireworks hit the trees.” Is this not where we find ourselves today, continually beginning at the end?
“Abundance” is, itself, abundant. One of those long poems that few poets can seamlessly wrestle into something that captivates and maintains its reader’s attention. For Stanley, this is not done through vibrant and Dionysian proclamations about love, the planet’s death, or political frustrations. Instead we’re guided through calmer waters as he goes placidly amid the noise and haste:
Equanimity is a kind of
Retreat, an adaptation. But isn’t
Poetry as much the fertile
Making of a new sense of how we
Might hide in a corpse of unfamiliar
Invaders as it is a resistant
Place for imagining new ways of
Crying alongside phenomena
Like dreamy bioengineering
Which is bullshit until it saves your life?
And isn’t that what we’re all asking of poetry these days? How and when will it save our life? But Stanley’s speakers are under no such illusion, and never claimed to be. Like at the end of the opening poem “Reverberation”:
if the poem was made of reason and change
I could strike a careless pose.
It’s not. I won’t.
Stanley wouldn’t be a wizard if he couldn’t cast a spell. The whole book is such a spell, and it is cast through the devotion to sense, to the song. The final poem, “Death of a Musician,” closes the book with alacrity a question about life, and an imperative for the world to hear:
Could you be like that, someone else
among the promise of unheard music spare
and peripheral, too much self to be
someone late one afternoon, obstinate,
a music came in. Listen Jack.
To lose one’s self, to become too much of one’s self through the magic of music, of hearing and listening, of being in the world. This is the wisdom of the wizard, after all.
In trying to summarize this book, I kept thinking about Stanley’s poetics of desert lands. As in “In Pierces” and other poems, both in this book and others, he often does more than observe and reflect on the land. He makes the land part of his poems, part of his speakers, and a necessary component of his poetics. A blurb by Brain Teare on the back of this book speaks to this relationship better than I could: “This book is an ecological manifesto, an unembarrassed declaration of dependence and love for the world.”
This manifesto-like quality, this relationship between the poet and the world, manifests itself in the Wordsworthian lyric tradition. There are conversational tones mixed that mix with musical resonances, all of which work to immerse the reader into what lies between the speaker’s ears. And it is this constant, quiet listening-to-everything quality that Stanley even includes in the acknowledgements page, stating “This book is a product of conversations with […]” So sit down, read and listen. Join the conversation, as it were.
Other poems that struck me were:
“Legs” – an ekphrastic-, O’Hara-like long poem about a rope sculpture of a pair of legs by Barbara Shawcroft that stood in the Bay Area’s Embarcadero BART station.
“Poem” – which is just that; a truckin’ pluggin’ pullin’ poem that flows for the sake of sound itself. A liberating lightness that works to churn life into the poems surrounding it.
Listening suggestions for when you inevitably pick this book up:
Dopethrone by Electric Wizard
Holy Mountain by Sleep
In Her Garden by Colour Haze
Gore Motel by Bohren & der Club of Gore
Anything by Mihály Víg
Chris Muravez is a poet lost in Indiana. He is a ten year veteran of the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard. Currently, he is an MFA graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Notre Dame. His poetry focuses on exploring the damaging effects of war on both the society and the individual. His poems have been featured in The Mochila Review, Santa Clara Review, and South 85 Journal. He also worked as an editorial assistant for Action Books. Apart from reading and writing, Chris also enjoys cheeseburgers and heavy metal.