Christopher Prewitt

When one reads Eklund’s poetry, one draws comparisons to Péret with his figurative, associative language, especially as it pertains to Eklund’s metaphors, which at times can also bring to mind García Lorca. From the poem “Burning Milk”:

We’d yet to see a whole city burn

Only waiting for what would leak

From the big eggs of our ideas,

From the palm of a broken hand

Nailed to the sky.

What sets Eklund’s latest full-length Each Breath I Cannot Hold apart from what readers/listeners tend to expect of surreal-oriented poetry is that Eklund grounds a poem in locations so that the wild metaphorical play can commence and open up the unconscious mind into what is both a beautiful and painful transcription of events and experiences that are transnational and that sometimes damn well near exceed corporeal human existence.[1] Some poems announce locale explicitly—“Ode to South Florida,” “Essay on South Florida,” “Essay on Canada”—some offer a sense of staging for the speaker and the dramatic situation without necessarily being about a Place in particular—“On Sunday Sixteen Miles Deep in the Hills,” “Composition in a Snow Field”—some feature familiar areas or venues—“The Tabernacle,” “Dying in the Kitchen”—and others take place in mysterious, allusive locations that subconsciously feel like places we frequently inhabit—“In Some Lost Red,” “Into the Place Our Blood Made.” Eklund’s language moves with minimal pressure from denotative authority—or, to put it another way, Eklund unashamedly embraces the figurative more than the literal; but contrary to what those whose poetic sensibilities lean more towards transparency and/or explicitly narrative poetry—especially narrative grounded in the ordinary, the everyday, the expected physics and logic of the world we inhabit—have to say about the surreal mode, the action in these poems does not occur in purely abstract places: anything can happen in these poems, anything can become a symbol or representative of something much bigger. However, this associative thinking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Readers/listeners will be taken care of to the extent that Eklund gets them to the coastline of a vast sea. What happens at the coastline is up to them, the readers/listeners, to process.[2]

Perhaps this sounds like an academic cop-out to readers/listeners who yearn for poetry that could very well be as didactic as proverbs, or only as puzzling as a parable, the sort of poetry that lends itself more to oral storytelling than, say, a modernist poem. Such audiences should keep in mind that Eklund draws influence from art. He’s married to the talented painter and poet Laura Eklund, and given the ekphrastic nature of these poems in addition to titles that could be used for artwork—“A Sketch on Belief,” “A Death of Romance in the Grassy Sky,” “White Sinks,” “Composition at the Wall,” “Madonna and Child”[3]—it should surprise no one that Eklund expects readers to actively read these poems rather than have the poems announce their intentions and their meanings, that Eklund would prefer we consider and respond to the poem rather than insist on a meaning that fails to make itself known.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Eklund is fond of the essay form. Of the listed sixty-three poems in this collection, thirteen are either referred to as essays or concern the art of essays. Eklund refers to essay in its purest sense in writing: an attempt. Essays allow for associative thinking, are written by people who understand that to come to an understanding of X, connections must be made, and usually it’s those less apparent connections that constitute the more interesting connections; however, those same connections can be frustrating for readers/listeners when the justification for the essayist asserting that X is like Y is not present. Again, a matter of poetic sensibilities leaning towards transparency rather than exploration.

I cannot deny that other poets who play in the surreal mode often go so far that I no longer have interest to continue in spite of my desire to think of things in ways I haven’t before. But as a reader/listener of poems who’s drawn to the uncertain, I favor those poems that invite me to do some digging around and to do some contemplating. That Eklund manages to keep me grounded—even if it’s just a quick reference to “this window / Cracked and patched with tape” (“Essay on Dying and Not Dying”)—keeps me invested in these poems enough to think. It’s this rare blend Eklund achieves in Each Breath I Cannot Hold that warrants a readership. Seldom do we find poets with such seemingly natural abilities to alter our landscapes and to do so with enough trust in the readers/listeners to take a long, hard look at what we didn’t already know.

[1]  As opposed to a poem that’s reactionary to Place with a Capital P, an example being García Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York.

[2]  This is not to say that Eklund’s speakers refrain from asserting beliefs—far from it. Sometimes these assertions can even be thought of as the crux of the poem, or the driving thought, such as the last few lines from “The Abbreviation of a Gun”: “If a gun could be abbreviated / It would collapse aesthetically / Under the weight of its ugliness, / Under the weight of our own asperity.” Such proclamations in addition to acute declarative, descriptive passages help characterize these speakers and, again, protect these poems from incomprehensibility or total abstraction.

[3]  Forgive me if those don’t strike you as artwork-worthy titles. I never progressed beyond crude notebook sketches and comics I designed with colored pencils.

Christopher Prewitt lives with his wife in Virginia, teaching composition and creative writing. He is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist with work either published or forthcoming in Vinyl, Switched-On Gutenberg, Suss, Staccato, and the Thomas Wolfe Review.

Each Breath I Cannot Hold
George Eklund
Wind Publications 2011
$13.90 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-936138-33-3
80 pp.