I've deliberated over this review for a long time, because ‘Between Two Windows’ is in many ways an archetypal promising first collection, and I wanted to do justice to its originality and its flaws. Essentially, Hazzard is a language poet, albeit an evolved one with various strategies for developing and framing his free associations. The results range from brilliant to skip-able to arduous depending on the success of these strategies.
The opening poem, 'Moving In', is ostensibly a narrative poem, an attempt by the author to guide us through a landscape and series of events that have a particular significance to him - in other words, the opposite of language poetry, in which meaning is arrived upon through language play. Linguistic embellishments are modest but effective; 'The orange trees, after all, seem to clutch themselves', 'night is simply the folding over of fingers, leaned into a steeple'. Having lived with this collection for a while, I now suspect the narrative is illusory; Hazzard probably began this poem with language play, and continuously reworked it until it looked like a narrative. This gentle surrealism crops up throughout the book, and is consistently diverting, but never startling – if these poems were dreams they’d be the kind that made good anecdotes, not the kind that shock you awake with palpitations.
The second poem is organised very differently. 'The Inability to Recall the Precise Word for Something' consists of a list of obscure word definitions, eg. 'Someone who hates practicing the piano'; fittingly, I couldn't recall the word for any of them. The poem does recreate the sensation of reaching for language and not quite getting there, but it's a sensation of mild annoyance, like the inability to solve a crossword clue. Not feeling able to express yourself adequately in English is a pretty hefty social issue; I'm not saying that's can't be expressed through language games, but I did wish this poem had a bit more clout.
Poetry that begins with language play can be more powerful than this, and there are poems in which Hazzard succeeds in inferring much more potent emotions. My favourite poem of this collection is 'Entre Chien et Loup'; the title is a french phrase that literally translates as 'between dog and wolf', an expression meant to describe the time in the evening when there is still a little light left, but not enough to tell the difference between a dog and a wolf. Here, Hazzard takes on a voice that is pompous but simultaneously self critical, and has a one sided, almost prayer-like conversation with his muse, language poetry figurehead Lyn Hejinian.
'Though ostensibly civilised by my refusalHazzard seems inspired by the conversational pretext, and the poem that emerges ties brilliantly re-made language, (‘I mow on, fish-eyed, pink-lobed’), to complicated relationships and ideas. Is the title self depreciating, or does it reflect the speaker’s fear that he cannot ever fully perceive the world around him? The simple act of addressing the poem to a public figures enlivens every aspect of Hazzard’s language play.
to lust after what I am unable either to attract or afford
I worry I only think I own nothing'
Similarly, the distinctiveness of the voice in ‘Glasnost’, that of a creepily besotted office worker, ties together a frantic series of non-sequitors. The importance of distinguishing ‘texture from the appearance of it’ becomes less academic construct and more real life concern when it’s placed in the context of a character pining for sex. The flawed protagonist, rhyme scheme, and cadences are very reminiscent of Michael Robbins, eg. ‘Can you believe we were ever strangers? I’m leaving you everything except my corneas’. This is a compliment. Rhyme and free association arranged into anxious monologues offer a rich seam to mine, and Hazzard duly mines it.
In short, I don't want to write that language poetry is whimsical or apolitical – that would be a gross over-simplification. However, I do think you have to work that bit harder at it to ensure the poems do something measurable before they drift past, and by continually refining his composition tactics, Hazzard will achieve that with increasing regularity.
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