This is a book about deciding not to die—about the obstinacy of being. And it’s a book of craft, in which steadiness of presence generates the illumination that flickers through states darkened by steady crisis.
A lack of clarity stuck at the root of existence rises. Themes repeat to close on one another. Rage is a sacrament.
But the world is blurred, not broken. And a lyric I comes to rest in the world.
To persist in faith is to accomplish the full journey from Resolve to Devotion. And we must know Devotion sees this vivid world with new eyes, always. In these latest poems, Andrea Baker shows a gaze for gardens, a gaze for catastrophe, a gaze for everlasting. Here is greatness coming into view.
Donald Revell, author of Tantivy
In the extraordinary Each Thing Unblurred is Broken, Andrea Baker creates for us one of the most intriguing and inexplicable of narrators—this voice speaking to us is a pick to play her mother’s lute, this voice also marries, this voice has a body and her body fell on him. This narrator pays more attention to birds than any lyric-I in history, and probably this narrator is a bird, and maybe this bird or bird-woman is named Gilda. Or else, this voice simply understands Gilda. And this ever-seeing voice speaks and speaks to us and for a while we think we don’t understand—until we do. “Her own face/covered//she dissolves/and nothing can hold her,” because— if the formula demands that whatever is unblurred is broken—then, we must know, this narrator, this mind, this bird, this woman—she is utterly not broken.
Sarah Vap, author of Arco Iris
Andrea Baker’s second book assembles a patchwork of desolate wreckages and destructions of the self. These are portraits of a body at odds with the world, as “the world is cruel; the world is real.” Each murmuration of images, each bevy of metaphor, allows Baker to achieve an immediacy feathered with response. Reader, prepare to find your damage here. Prepare to be recognized, and so to be soothed.
Jennifer Militello, author of Body Thesaurus
Andrea Baker is the author of Famous Rapes (Water Street Press, 2015), a paper and packing tape constructed not-quite-graphic-novel about the depiction of sexual assault from Mesopotamia to the present day. She has been a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellow, and in 2005 she was awarded the Slope Editions Book Prize for Like Wind Loves a Window. Her recent work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Fence, Pleiades, The Rumpus, Tin House, and Typo. It has also been anthologized in Family Resemblance: An Anthology of Eight Hybrid Literary Genres (Rose Metal Press, 2015), Verse Daily, and Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn (New York University Press, 2007). In addition to her work on the page, she is a subject in the documentary A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument. She works as an appraiser of arts and antiques in New York City.
A brief interview with Andrea Baker
(conducted by Rusty Morrison)
1. It is such a pleasure to see this book at this stage in the publication process! I remember meeting you at an Omnidawn reading in NY, and talking, and have the presentiment that the work you were sending us would thrill me. And it did!
I remember reading the first poem’s lines and feeling as though that “black finch” was irrevocably altering my relationship to “the brutalities of speculation,” to any easy understandings of the positioning of observer and observed.
I find these lines particularly alive to the paradox of presence:
He proposes himself as the first form
dressed in weight, sunken into the seen
while beyond his edge the subtle goes on unclaimed.
“[A] black finch” is, in some sense, an icon for the elements of craft that govern this book’s trajectories. Can you talk about this first poem and its relationship to the work as a whole?
You are so aware of the ‘blur’ and its necessity. We do, humanly, err and think in terms of categories and likenesses, and these poems are alive to that err and its aftermath; you do not try to make simple clarities of this complexity. I’d love to hear you talk about the crafting and the challenges of a book that begins with such a powerful figure.
EACH THING UNBLURRED IS BROKEN was written from the time I was trying to perfect my being through submission through the time I recognized that as a bum strategy and turned instead to self-care and Theravada Buddhist teachings and meditation.
My initial idea was that my submission equaled some spiritual release, only I wasn’t good enough. I was being outmatched, and I needed to try harder. Let go more.
But ideas tend to come from somewhere, and my ideas about submission were coming from my, by the end of the book ex, husband who was uncomfortable with me having relationships to people other than him, having my own wallet, having my own keys to the house, etc.
“[T]he brutalities of speculation,” is about the brutality of abstract thought—about being in thought instead of reality. It’s failure to grasp the tangible.
The poem was written a couple years in advance of the crisis that precipitated my getting a grasp on the facts of my own life (and a divorce), but I was already learning about the three personality types emphasized by Western Theravada teachings: greedy, aversive, and speculative.
Basically, the theory is that we are all busy avoiding reality and there are three main strategies by which we do so. The greedy lose presence to their wants; the aversive lose presence to their dissatisfactions; the speculative lose presence to their own thoughts. While I didn’t grasp how problematic my reality was, I did grasp that speculation was my primary avoidance strategy. Writing and crafting are, to me, tools. They are tools for navigating, for uncovering, and for a sort of visceral play with and within my own being.
This is how I see that poor finch: All he cares about is finding soothing, which he is unable to provide for himself. He wants to escape, he fantasizes about being the Platonic form of something, an abstraction dropped into reality rather than a reality. But here he is, perched, and contemplating. Until he so limits himself that he decides he doesn’t even exist, he’s just a shape that joins another shape—a black finch blurred into a black branch— his presence disappears into camouflage. He ceases to exist. And he ceases to exist because he decided, through speculative thought, that he doesn’t exist. But there is some sort of bright rage on the horizon, which will either kill him or bring him to light.
I can’t say that I understood my connection to the finch consciously, but the poem’s urgency and issues were something I felt. The book is ordered with the finch upfront because his predicament, being lost—to thought and to environment—is the predicament the book speaks to (while also coming into a disclosing of the present). The book is about learning to come into contact with reality.
2. Your title, Each Thing Unblurred Is Broken, asks a reader to pause, to come into a more clairvoyant kind of listening than is usually called for in our lives. I wonder how a powerful, multifaceted meditation as title comes to a writer. Were there other titles you’d had in mind before you came to this one? Did you need to effect/experience the process that the title describes, in your coming to it?
I think my favorite writers write their own psychic process. My writing practice consists of crafting something out of resonate bits of image and thought. It isn’t linear. I have globs, and the reason to bring them together is to sculpt a frame to hold the globs. And once it’s held, I get to see what shape was made. I can only know the shape by making the shape. And I need to know the shape, so I write.
So, yes, I needed the process.
The line came up years ago. I was doing a small writing workshop with Matthew Henriksen, Julia Cohen, Keith Newton, Phil Cordelli, and with guest appearance by Jennifer Bartlett and Mathias Svalina. This would have been shortly before I wrote the first poem about the black finch. The line had been in a poem about leaves rotting in a lake and as the group talked about it I figured out how much it meant to me–it felt just at the cusp of my understanding. As I thought about it I knew it would be the title of my next book, well before the book existed.
I can’t even imagine the book without the title. It’s the book’s process, while also being its realization.
3. One of the most engaging, evocative, provocative characters in the book is Gilda. Will you talk about her presence in this text? Her emergence? Her evolution? What challenges did you face in your relationship with her figure? Were there some especially challenging and/or rewarding poems that she inhabits?
In the beginning I would have said that my challenge was letting her go. She’s a hold over from my first book, like wind loves a window, but I’m now very grateful for her presence here.
She’s histrionic, communicating via performance. She also isn’t a steady entity, she stands for something that gets swept around. I can do anything with her. It’s like playing with a doll.
My work on her is obsessive—I’ve entertained myself many-a-day by inserting and removing an article, or changing a tense back and forth. But that’s a by-product of my easy absorption in her sections.
I will say, though, that her real defining moment is when she wonders out of her sections and comes into contact with the color of grass. She doesn’t last long before flitting away, but she did step outside.
4. Could you talk about any writers &/or artists &/or thinkers who have influenced you in this work? (in what direct or indirect ways have you felt this occur?) And/or could you talk about who are you reading currently? With whom do you feel a kinship or a provocation or…?
During the writing of this book, I was reading, as mainstays, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, and Theodore Roethke. All serious and penetrating writers. When I read them it feels like they are exhausting themselves by writing.
I was also very influenced by Theravada Buddhist teachings, particularly as they overlap with western psychology. Talks by meditation teachers Tara Brach and Josh Korda were often on my ipod. Both are practitioners with strong ties to western therapeutic practice.
Intensity, an intellectual knowledge of the foibles of intensity, and an understanding that the path is to come further into contact with the present are the emotional and philosophical underpinnings of the book.
5. Would you tell me a bit about yourself? Anything you are willing to share that might not be in your short bio that is published in the book?
I text myself. I love restoring art. Gratitude is important to me. There’s no place like bed. Coffee is good. Shoes are uncomfortable. Wool socks and umbrellas are both deep comforts. I like my life. I’m an auctioneer in training—I take the podium 15 minutes a month. I like my cities gritty. I’m fascinated by memoir. Everything I learn about, I fall in love with. I once had only clothes I’d found in the trash. Once I decided I could only bear to wear white. Lately, I prefer to dress like a member of the band or a princess—especially an ice princess, with a snowball white fur hat, even though I am a long time vegan. And I’m comfortable with the contradiction—it’s really warm. Better than wearing a wool sock on my head.
6. You were instrumental in the selection of the image that is used in the cover design for this book. Would you describe your considerations in your arrival at the choice for this cover image? How does this cover align with your intentions for the book?
This book is about attempts at realizing vague images from the periphery, which it also enacts. I had less conscious or, rather, linguistic, understanding of what the book was about before selecting a cover. The process included communicating with the Omnidawn team about what I thought might be appropriate.
I didn’t have an intention before I looked for a physical match. It was more a matter of feeling around in the dark among the candidates. I found the process difficult.
Then it dawned on me that I am friendly with a number of art advisors. I sent for a description of the book and asked if any contemporary artists came to mind. In short, I got frustrated so I drew on resources.
One advisor, Diana Ewer, came back with an image by printmaker, Katsutoshi Yuasa, the artist whose work I chose. I was drawn to the sense of shimmering understanding in Yuasa’s work. I’ve been looking at his prints, of course, but only now googled him. I just watched a video of him talking about his process and technique. I kept pausing it and wrinkling my brow. For one thing, he makes woodcuts from photographs and found images. A big part of my creative practice over the last handful of years has been making cut-outs out of photographs and found images. I had no idea we had this in common until I looked him up to answer this question. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. He talks about his woodcuts as how he tries to understand the world. He talks about how trying to understand has more meaning than the elusive object. And about how the difference between the two is the object of his mediation, the process of which is making his woodcuts. He talks about meticulous technique and ritualistic refinement, about expression, and about the introspection of image and image recreation—about the flux at the edge of the visible. …….turns out he and I are thinking about a lot of the same things.
I’m very happy with how the cover turned out.
^ back to menu
“We’re all looking for transcendence, but award-winning poet Baker hints that it’s not to be. We’re grounded firmly in a world that’s obdurately there, indifferent (“the world is cruel; the world is real”), and nature itself can’t shrug off what it is (reeds in a pond “struggle to cast their form aside”). In the telling opening poem, a black finch sitting on a black branch “proposes himself as the first form,” then quails, fails, and becomes “an aspect of the branch.” But his mind is like “a birth of flies/ before the dawn,” and in that surging physicality lies holiness—an idea that (perhaps surprisingly) does come up.”
“The laconic, mysterious single lines in this second volume from Baker… look back to the poetry of the 1970s, with prayer-like overtones, flirtations with minimalism, and a search for answers among birds, stones, and bones.”
“Andrea Baker’s “Each Thing Unblurred Is Broken” is a wise and humane collection that makes visible the daunting apparatus of human perception. Read this book, and see the world with fresh eyes.”
Sonja James, The Journal
“Baker’s poems are painstakingly precise, exploring the use of fragment, voice, character and allusion, and constructing something very specific out of the scattered parts.”
Dispatch the Flies
A black finch sits on a black branch never wanting
more than praise for soothing.
He proposes himself as the first form
dressed in weight, sunken into the seen
while beyond his edge the subtle goes on
A black finch sits on a black branch
blind to the brutalities of speculation.
Atrocity of yes and atrocity of no.
Listless in the stillness he becomes
the subject of his own dismissal.
He decides he is untrue
no place for reversal.
A black finch sits on a black branch and fails.
He becomes an aspect of the branch
absorbed by what he borders.
But his mind, as yet unstill, is like a birth of flies
before the dawn that brings the light
like a pyre.