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Megan Burns on Nathan Hauke

In the Marble of Your Animal Eyes by Nathan Hauke

(Publication Studio, 2013) 54pgs


“But trace is a poetics/ That’s one thing one could say”

-Duplessis, draft 87


“Bees errand the eaves to gather,” Nathan Hauke writes in his new collection In the Marble of Your Animal Eyes. Here a series of untitled poems coalesce to present an overarching natural theme underscored by the attention to the page brought forth by the markings and details written onto the typed pieces that keep the reader engaged in the making of the poem.  The book opens with a definition of the word “Pastoral,” which like many of the following poems is crossed through and amended to reflect an edited version; in a sense, the speaker’s version of what the word means is found in the annotations. Hauke immediately asks us to grapple with two ideas in regards to poetry: the idea of the pastoral in the poem and the idea of the poem as a construct. In the Marble of Your Animal Eyes quite literally centers us in the eye of the animal regarding the world and in the eye of the reader as we attempt to ascertain where the poem is leading us.


And what Hauke removes from the definition of “Pastoral” provides a basis for reading the subsequent poem. In fact, the words “as a poem” are struck out leaving “play dealing with the life of shepherds or rural life.” In addition to references to the poem or the author which are blacked out, the idea of contrasting the rural to city life is struck through leaving instead: “portraying or expressive of life,” a fit definition for any poem. This initial dismantling of the word “pastoral” initiates us into the style of this poem, which at every turn asks the reader to discern what the speaker wants to say and what the speaker chooses to remove or pull back from the page. Editing a poem is an invisible endeavor that is here made tangible, and so the impetus for why we are allowed to see into this world must be questioned. This text puts us in the eye of the poet deciding how language will work on the page and how the external world is then filtered into this white space.


“Woods are a surface too” and much like the surface of the poem, Hauke uses the landscape of the page to consider the use of the pastoral as a form in accordance with the construct of the written word. Here is the speaker in the subject of the poem contemplating the bark “scarred from antlers” and the “Weeds near the bank” while also lost in the contemplation of the self  “my face my leaves my,” and yet, that is not all that is at work here. The lines and the edits never allow us to be fully lost in the illusion of the natural repose; we are drawn to the surface where we struggle to read what has been struck out and wonder why “Maple/ leaves   tunneled milky stars” was found wanting. We read “Woods are a surface too—a shore or semi-transparency of glass” just as we note the line indicating we should drop that last phrase two lines below so that it should read: “little blue dents of sky/ Inky black scribbles/ a shore or semi-transparency of light.”  Is that right? Did we follow what the speaker intended? Are we in the woods in contemplative repose or are we at the desk struggling to make the poem? Where are we situated in the struggle to make language perform? 


This detail to the natural world is maintained throughout the poems, so we see, “The sheer force of a perfectly pitched stone/ shatters a streetlamp   near the tracks::::”. Again, the animal tracks are mimicked in the white space with the repetitive colons, but aren’t we the trackers following the poet’s mind? Here are the fresh imprints in the page that lead us: “My eyes brush gold underwater like a lake roughed by wind.” The simile is removed in this line; the devices that make a poem left for us to see but rendered not necessary for meaning. Suddenly, the page is free from edits; poems come to us simply typed on the page and the reader is struck by the sudden swerve into an interior domestic scene: “Pierced by the faint stubble of pubic hair/ visible beneath the scrim of your nightgown/ as you hedge a lamp in the doorway a week after our wedding.” The hedge of this scene is not the external world, the pubic hair replaces the weeds, the banks where the poet wandered are now in the body of another. Has language on the page stabilized with this removal from nature? Has the need to excise and reroute the words on the page given way to a sureness under the gaze of the other: “You put your breath/ on my mirror.”


Somewhere on the path the attention to the construct is subsumed by the details of the poem, the natural world collides with the speaker’s desire for sense, the desire to enter the world of “darkness between our bodies” that is fraught with “Apples left on the branch for worms.” Death comes in at the crevices with the description of a funeral home that was once a porno theater and is now a bank; a physical metaphor shifting before us in temporal space. The city and the rural in sharp contrast and now as we continue to track our speaker, the desire to edit the page returns. Once again the poem’s space gives way to changes, to phrases not deleted from view but excised just enough to not hold weight. The phrase “that’s been painted over” is literally painted over with the sweep of black line. It’s interesting to note how Hauke allows the movement of the mind in not only a single poem with these edits, but how over the course of the book, we see how the poet decides in moments of intense reveal to let language course as it will. It is in the more controlled, reigned lines that we see this need to curtail, to cut close to the edge of what needs to be said. But in moments of marital sexual bliss or in light of death, these liminal spaces of extreme emotion seem to elude the need for editing.


Hauke’s language is consistently stunning in both his word choice and in his timing to deliver what he will tell and what he will remove. In the Marble of Your Animal Eyes delivers not only a breathtaking poem but also intrigues the reader with the making of itself. It takes on the idea of the archaic pastoral in the age of post-language poetry, and it seamlessly welds the concept of beauty captured in the line with the relentless pursuit for that elusive creature. “Trust the smudge that allows one to tear/ through into another,” Hauke tells us. The poet smudges the page and we wander with them: trust.


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