I have to admit, when I first read that Rebecca Hazelton’s Fair Copy was comprised of acrostic poems I was skeptical. An acrostic poem is a type of poetry in which the first, last or other letters in a line spell out a particular word or phrase–in this case a line from Emily Dickinson. This seemed a bit scholastically puerile to me, but as I had read a poem of Hazelton’s in Poetry magazine, “The Good and Evil in the World,” and thoroughly enjoyed it, I soldiered on. I’m so glad I did. Fair Copy is a breathtakingly good book of poetry.
The collection reads like a modern fairytale with Victorian trimmings. We follow a narrator through three distinct sections, the first about a lost love, the second about the self in relation to the past and future, and the third about a new love. Throughout these sections, Hazelton explores what the differences between what we perceive as real love and the appearance of love–a fair but perhaps unreal copy of love–might be. She drenches her poems in fairytale images, using animals like rabbits and hounds, and set dressing like tapestries, antiquated clothing, and even incorporating familiar tales like Noah’s Arc and Genesis. One of my favorite poems in the whole collection centers around a journey in a dirigible.
When I say she drenches her poems in this imagery I mean that her poems are brilliantly saturated, filled up to the lip with gorgeous imagery tied to personal narrative tied to a few modern details–all of which add up to make her work feel delightfully contemporary. I was continually at the density of her poetry, with how much she managed to fit into each poem. For example, “[Delayed till she had ceased to know]” includes the poet describing lying in a bath listening to a rainstorm, the tale of Noah’s arc, the concept of pairing or couple with another person, the idea of writing poems as a way to pass through grief (this concept coupled with the image of Noah releasing the dove), the desire for the deluge to never cease (such is the nature of the poet’s lonely anguish), then the idea of the poet as the God controlling this flood–potentially sinking the boat or removing it from the world entirely. All of this is done in the space of just a few lines, and all of it deft. Have a look at these lines to see her use of imagery and juxtaposition of voice at work:
“All lags; the tiny boat perches on a hill,
delayed. It will unfold and all creation
collapse out in a long giraffe,
emu, otter, gnu. I’ve wished that ark door wedged shut”
I think the reason her poems feel light and airy to me is her expert use of tabs and enjambment. As a general rule, I find that tabs or indentations in poetry are generally unnecessary and don’t do much for the poem at hand, but Hazelton uses indentation brilliantly. She indents to create pause, to force the reader to linger just where she wants them. Given the fairytale miasma these poems create, the winding shape each poem takes on with via many long indentations seems entirely fitting. Her use of enjambment is no less smart.
If Hazelton ever fails, it is in getting just a bit too abstract. It only happens a few times in the book, most often in the second section. Her best poems are those hooked onto a story or idea, like the one above about Noah’s arc, or “[Summer laid her simple Hat–]” which focuses on the image of sand dunes. When there isn’t one unifying story or image, at times her poems can be a little confusing. I felt this way about “[Of Bronze–and Blaze–],” but then amazingly the next poem opens by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader’s likely frustration that the poet is becoming “unreasonable.” Perhaps the abstraction is intentional.
In general, my manner of reading includes placing a star by the title of each poem in a collection I particularly enjoy–this way I can return to my favorites with ease. My volume of Fair Copy is littered with stars, almost too many for them to be of any use. I’m already in the process of procuring more of Hazelton’s work. I suggest you do the same. I’ll leave you with a particular favorite stanza of mine:
“Awake–and fear sits on my chest, a soot cat
dipping a crumbling black paw in my mouth. This is not the air
advertised, the dawn applied for. Yesterday was nice.”
-“[A darting fear–a pomp–a tear]”