(Cleveland State University, 2013) 
Vow, Rebecca Hazelton’s second book of poems, presents a chorus of speakers, often masked, wrestling with the incongruities between a desire to accommodate social expectations—domesticity, loyal partnership/marriage, fulfillment of gender roles, et cetera—and a need to abide by something other and feral—territoriality, violence, subservience/dominance (especially of a sexual nature), vengeance, et cetera. The line between these battling drives blurs and veers as the poems assemble (and sometimes disassemble) to recount the arc of a failed marriage and the start of a new one. In the poem “First Husband,” Hazelton strums these discordant strings with devilish irony and quirk:

                                  I took thee to the prom. I took your best friend for a test drive,
                                  but we were on a break. I took you stupe
fied

                                  by my misapplied Prozac, I took the part of Ingénue #2
                                  to your experience, sat with welted ass and demur face, blushing


                                  over my bound wrists.

Gone are the addled, Dickinsonian syntax and acrostic forms from Hazelton’s first collection, Fair Copy. Many of her newly preferred rhetorical and stylistic choices are lit in neon in the stanzas above: the engine of anaphora (here it’s the tyrannical I..., I..., I..., I...); the rapid oscillation between high and low diction (for example, the antiquated “thee” butting against the ritualistic materialism of “prom,” or the clinical “Prozac” juxtaposed aside the romantic “Ingénue”); her percussive double and triple tap rhythms; the near Saxon alliteration and assonance; sordid innuendo; evidence of sexual or domestic violence (sometimes desired); and perhaps most pervasive, her pliable sense of rhyme and its various evocations. Here, she runs the gamut from the subtler echoes (“thee” and “we,” “best” and “test,” “by” and “my,” and “break” and “took”)— which quickly, almost silently, enact the complicated correlations between the objects of her world—to the over-the-top triple rhymes (“stupefied” and “misapplied”) and mosaic rhymes (“Ingénue” and “#2”) that, with their inherent humor, dredge a protective moat of irony around otherwise sensitive subject matter. In short, Hazelton’s language and ideas are dominated by her verse, her form, just as her speakers are dominated throughout the book. As to the latter, one poem, “Dear Chanel, Dear Alabama, Dear Elise,” ends: “I, too, am prone / to a dramatic exit, and look best with my caboose / swung over a man’s shoulder.” In another, “Book of Denial”: “I cannot remember how he kissed me, / and though he slapped me / when necessary, and in the face / when I asked I can’t say anymore / the size of his hands or / how the peace settled over both of us.” Or “Revision: Elise”: “your bottom shining like a good idea.” And yet another example, this one from “Love Poem for What Is”: “When the cat reaches up / one needled paw to drag down a book / from your desk, then another, / that’s not love—that’s dominance.” In each of these moments, domination produces the illusion, at very least, of “peace” or “love” or “a good idea,” or “look[ing] best”—a complicated, even irreconcilable, attitude toward gender and power. Throughout, Hazelton strikes an odd stance between a dark, Berryman-esque comedy and a genuine, lyric inquiry. She’s unafraid to ride the dragon smoke from image to image, idea to idea, but is equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) in a more straightforward declarative mode. Her thinking is loud and histrionic: “when I ask for release / from the bondage / I asked for” (from “Book of Water”). But for all its unreason and frivolity, Vow is a convincing if obsessive record of self-investigation. Finally, from “Book of Janus”: 

     I have seen them together straining
     against their together all together

                 and the woman thinks if she can just get him face to face
                 they might talk this away
                 and the man wants to run but his legs are hers


     they are one body at war with the one war we’re all in
     together all together we’re in


                                                                                   —Justin Boening 



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