Andrea Baker’s like wind loves a window

Baker, Andrea. like wind loves a window. Slope Editions, 2005.
(56 pages)

I begin with a couple disclaimers: I’m not an academic and I’m not a critic. I approach poetry intuitively, finding my way through the craft by relying on my ear and my heart. I listen to what sings. Recently, Andrea Baker was chosen by Poets & Writers as one of the “18 debut poets who made their mark in 2005.” In the P&W article, I was surprised to read that Baker does not have an MFA and makes a living running her own small business. In an interview on kickingwind.com she admits that she also writes intuitively. This review, then, is a response from one intuitive poet to another.
     First of all, Baker proves that an MFA is not needed to write damn fine poetry—poems that both inhale and exhale startling breaths, poems packed with lines that stay in your head. Sometimes, while walking the Brooklyn sidewalks and looking up at the brownstone windows, I find myself singing lines written by fellow Brooklynite Baker:

and what if wind were a window
what if I loved
like wind loves a window

and walking through Prospect Park:

your spiral breath rising with the spiral trees.

But I admit that upon first picking up this book, I was a mystified by many of Baker’s poems. My tastes tend to favor the lyric and narrative, and Baker is often lyrical (above her head the lion, nimbed and winged / blows air through a pattern of trumpets) but rarely narrative.
     Yet the book does have its own internal logic. Edward Hirsch writes that successful poems teach the reader how to read them, that they carry their own “encoded instructions.” Certainly, like wind loves a window is a book that does exactly this.
     In the first poem, “Preface,” Baker grounds the reader by locating us in the body:

So I said, holding up the arm, so I said, the hand shielding a face, so I said, feeling up the arm, so I said, holding its hand, loosing straight down from the spine I said

But once grounded, she launches us ahead, leap by nonlinear leap. When I start to flounder mid poem through a nonnarrative of real children and model children, artichokes and stealing, this line brings me up short:

But what is it to slip, and what is it to yield?

I take it as a gentle rebuke from Baker for my insistence on the linear. So ok, then. I yield, I release, I abandon myself to the poem. Letting go, I find we are back in the body again – the body now joining the soul. (Dangerous as we all know it is to include the soul in poetry today, Baker somehow gets away with it.):

As a body would be, one all together. Where the long night and the soul recur spontaneously, the landscape glows a vivid blue.

The stage is set, instructions are downloaded. Onward to the next section, “gilda,” where my favorite lines occur:

jaw off
my own
jawed face.

Four lines broken with crisp precision, alone on their own page. Chewy language; a shocking image. In those four lines, I give myself up to this world that Baker is creating.
     But like wind loves a window doesn’t want you to become too complacent, Baker switches it up with “House” - a series of pictures and text, hand written notes, cryptic lines, half-drafts of poems, and pictures (my favorite: a stick figure with childish house shapes for eyes and a mouth). Baker cites Sappho as one of her influences, and a very Sapphic sense of fragmentation dominates this poem. Reading and viewing “House” is like discovering a scrap of papyrus with a few of lines and half lines, such as this set, handwritten and crossed out:

I can
I was



In the next poem, the stick figure from “House” becomes a character in a “script” for gilda and her house. Or at least, I imagine it’s this figure who gets to say provocative lines like

I have more skin. It just isn’t shedding.

More intriguing poems follow, continuing in their mysterious ways and beautiful language to re-figure the familiar objects of everyday world—body, house, bird, water.

At the ocean all of a child’s skin;   is public and the ocean’s public
skin crashes over

But there is a sense of emotional satisfaction that I’m generally missing in these poems. Is it fair to demand that all poems contain some sort of emotional content? Perhaps not, but for me, at least, that’s what makes poems worth coming back to, worth reading and re-reading. And while I appreciate Baker’s stunning dexterity with language, there are times I want to be touched at the core of my (dare I say it?) soul.
     Perhaps Baker and I simply disagree about the nature of this life. She writes,

this life is made
of little wooden places

and wooden cases
nothing is a tree.

But I say, go into the forest and the trees are simply trees, breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. And it is deeply satisfying, sometimes, just to breath with the trees.
     Nevertheless, Baker’s poems are exquisitely crafted wooden cases—inlaid with shining mother-of-pearl moments of discovery and opening to reveal mysterious depths within their lovely lines.

Tamiko Beyer is a queer, mixed-race writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of publications including Calyx, CRATE, DMQ Review, and Triplopia. She has performed her work in San Francisco, New York City, and other "coast" cities. Beyer is a founding member of Agent 409, an NYC-based writing group that has published two zines and is currently working on a performance piece addressing the theme of occupation. She leads a writing group for homeless LGBT youth through the New York Writers Coalition. (tamiko.b@gmail.com)

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761