Follow-Haswed by Laura Walker, Apogee Press 2012
Reviewed by Alex Rieser
I liken the experience of reading Follow-Haswed to trying to find your way around a town you are visiting in a country whose dialect is not your own. You move forward (at night, there’s nobody it appears, to ask for directions) at a loss for your methodology. You aren’t certain, but you think you’re going the right direction. You are looking perhaps for your hotel (semblance of home). To be more direct: the titles repeat themselves. If this book is some kind of city, then they are street signs.
The dialect, although not your own, is derivative of the language that’s yours; you recognize prefixes, suffixes, perhaps even guessing at the meaning of the symbols at large. I use this metaphor to liken the way that Walker defamiliarizes the title terms, claiming them entirely for the city Follow, in the country Haswed. I know what a street sign is you think, like I know what furlong, gibbous, and godwit are. When the titles repeat, you begin to familiarize yourself with them. Perhaps at first the terms are strange to your eyes, but like they’ve adjusted to the night, they adjust to words.
Seeing the signs reappear tells you that you are in a linear direction. Although lost, perhaps having made a circle or two, the solution must be to cover more ground. Perhaps at this point you are feeling the adventurous side of not knowing your way. As though bewilderment is a type of compass.
between blue andnature, permissionto proceed. (15)
Gosh this is exciting, you think, it looks nothing like it did in the pictures. Nothing like the places I’ve visited before. You have no control over what you find, only whether or not you find it. The vernacular architecture is eclectic, almost collaged, some is old while some is very new. Although there are conventions of order: a door, a lodge, a basement, they are hard to pinpoint among the ins and outs of the forest rivers:
& shapes of thinges corresponding (21)
she looked like a boat (29)
be seaschippes with saltcounterfeit Gods (32)
the calling of a sailorthe door for her in silence (56)
There may be an entire city brewing, an entire drama being played out. What’s more is that you are sensing that the country is in turmoil. Bodies, wreckage, perhaps war? You notice the presence of military. You get the impression that history is being made. This is where Walker shows her expertise: in this state, any sign is a charged possibility, and one needs but a single distinction to be swayed. Is it direr if you don’t know what’s at stake? Either way:
never a time to have been pregnant (40)
Is it possible that in order to charge language with meaning to the utmost degree that you must first strip it of its constructed meaning? First it was recognizable, then not so, then you remember that people live here. They use this language of the dictionary every day. This is what it means to understand the unfamiliar; this is your induction. My god you may not have left home at all.
Alex Rieser is the author of Emancipator (New Fraktur Press, 2011), and has internationally published poetry, fiction, interviews, and criticism. He holds an MFA from The University of San Francisco, where he worked as the Chief Art & Associate Poetry editor for Switchback. His works have appeared in, or are forthcoming from Ploughshares, Transfer, Idiolexicon, Quiet Lightning, Corium, and Feathertale. He currently lives in Riverside, CA with his wife and two dogs.
Laura Walker is the author of Follow-Haswed (Apogee Press, 2012), birdbook (Shearsman Books, 2011), rimertown/ an atlas (UC Press, 2008), swarm lure (Battery Press, 2004), and the chapbook bird book (Albion Books, 2010). She grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Berkeley, California, where she teaches creative writing.
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