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Dan Chiasson on David Baker
The New Yorker‘s poetry critic, Dan Chiasson, waxes lyrical about David Baker, whose new collection Swift contains a selection of his previous work alongside a series of original elegies for his parents:
In his later work, from Midwest Eclogue (2005) forward, Baker has troubled the idea that poems might tame the world by metaphor. But he is not dismissive of the human need to try, and he has built a style out of his own and others’ setbacks. In ‘Hyper’, a beautiful poem about his daughter’s diagnosis of A.D.H.D., Baker describes how seeing four deer in a neighbor’s bean field becomes, for father and daughter alike, an “absolute attention, a fixity.” Both of them must decide what representing the deer requires. The girl, momentarily self-forgetful, is absorbed in her process, “hunkered over her drawing pad, / humming, for an hour.” She edits the four deer down to a classical three and draws the beans in idealized rows. Her father, the poet, keeps qualifying and refining his descriptions. “Then a stillness descended the blue hills,” he writes. After a beat, as though doubting the word: “I say stillness.” By the end of the poem, he has settled on a version of a sentence that the reader has seen him struggle to get right: “We watched four deer in stillness walking there.” It’s in perfect iambic pentameter.