04 September 2012

Tuned Droves

The opening sentence of Eric Baus’s second collection Tuned Droves (Octopus Books, 2008) reads: “When a boy’s mouth collapses into itself, tiny flames release from his limbs” (3). In some ways, the sentence captures the book’s central concern with the complex correspondence between voice and body. In this first instance, the inward collapse of a boy’s mouth produces flames that shoot from his appendages: a surreal cause-and-effect relationship, indeed. Of course, the image raises more questions than it answers, such as: What does it mean for a mouth to collapse into itself? Likewise, what are the effects on one’s voice after such a collapse occurs?

Readers can debate whether or not Tuned Droves answers these questions, but the collection certainly provides many examples of such collapses. Take, for instance, the prose poem “The Tranquilized Tongue,” wherein Baus writes:
What I could see of him was wrapped in steam. His head seemed fastened under his chin. He opened his outer wrapper, which appeared to me large enough to put my arm down deep inside. His eyelids do not wake him. His reflection enlarges as it enters his eyes. Here, he lies down with a voice. Compared with his name, which exhausts itself, the fluid of the tranquilized tongue remains enclosed within a perfect circuit, and his troubled body opens without destroying the organs of address. (19)
In this excerpt, the speaker sees a body “wrapped in steam,” partially obscuring it from view. What can be seen, though, is a body rendered foreign by a displacement of parts that allows for the head to be fastened under the chin. Moreover, this “troubled body opens” so much so that it is “large enough to put [an] arm down deep inside.” Unlike the mouth’s collapse in the opening sentence, the “tranquilized tongue remains enclosed within a perfect circuit” and escapes the cleaving violence the body experiences.

While neither one of these examples place mouth and body in explicit opposition to one another, they do suggest an ontological divide. But near the conclusion of Tuned Droves, Baus undermines this proposition as well when he writes: “His voice corresponds with the body it extends” (67): the voice, which emanates from the mouth, is both an extension of and “corresponds with” the body. Of course, just pages before, the speaker of “A Ding and Its Echo” claims that “My voice is a reference to almost nothing” (65) Does the speaker contradict himself, or are we to assume that the body is “almost nothing”? In fact, both of these statements, at least within the world of Tuned Droves, are true; the contradiction’s resolution resides in “An Echoed Exoskeleton”: “These sacrificial words form a feigned body which evades him during sleep” (62). The voice refers to almost nothing because the body, which is “feigned” and evasive, is almost nothing; hence, the voice is an extension of that nothingness.

But in that “almost nothing,” a remainder exists: a second tongue hidden within a fragmented nothing-body that escapes sense-making systems; or, as the poem “This Is A Film About Real Toy Trains” says: “Inside any good, real tongue there is another, beautifully cast” (21). Yes, within utilitarian “good, real” tongues hide “other, beautifully cast” tongues that “survive as obstacles to grammar and song” (42). To this extent, hidden tongues speak in voices that confuse because they adhere to non-normative grammatical practices and sing unique, thus difficult to understand, songs. But the voices of hidden tongues are not foreign; they are, merely, unheard because most do not listen for them. In fact, this hidden, “double-tongued music emerges” (61) from the same source as predecessor: it is “not another language,” but a different “treatment of the same tongue” (62) whose “performance culminates in the production of an irregularly shaped vowel” (66). And just like a hidden tongue, Tuned Droves is “irregularly shaped,” but “beautifully cast.”

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