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Book Review: 3rd i or within the contingent skin by Basil Eliades

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In Eastern philosophies like Hinduism and Buddhism, the third eye is the symbol of enlightenment – the inner realm of consciousness. By spelling the title with the singular pronoun, Eliades begins the book with word play that alerts that reader to the intimate nature of the poetry.

The subject matter of 3rd i traverses the line between the visible, the audible, and the referential. The meaning that arises from each piece is, at times, as simple as a moment of shared passion, or as complex as the birth of the universe and the meaning of life. In most instances, they are both at the same time:

The printed rain,
the proving sun,
the weight of our last privilege –
from chaos, stars emerge,
they spin themselves from nothingness
without the anchor of our beliefs
& become heroes,
our frail perception of the brittle / elasticity of our connection
reveals so much in the moment it fails;
a separate reality vibrates within reach. (“3rd i”, 37)

Each word provides a duality of meaning that points to a micro perspective — the here and now of loving, breathing, parenting, and a macro perspective — the world growing in meaning and actually becoming itself through these simple acts. Most of the poems in this collection are big; almost epic in their scope, such as the title poem: “We warn tragedy away/by breathing.” (“3rd i”, 38) Although I haven’t heard the CD version of this, I can almost imagine the godlike voice of the poet booming out meaning through language — the word made flesh.

Despite the grandeur, the “rapacious sea of grief”; the “self saturated turmoil”; “the profound depths” of Eliades’ oceans, there is also an almost painful intimacy contained within this work. The meaning making in 3rd i has little to do with magic – there is no smoke, no tardis, wands, or even God. The alchemy is created out of the stuff that happens in every life – sex, love, childbirth, or even “a cicada husk”:

To shield us and our unknowing moments
From the possibilities of dogma, tv, and sect.
My jesus is a small dead fly.
My jesus is withered lizard.
My jesus is cicada husk.
My jesus is a wing frame. (“for the nuns, St Monica’s, footscray”, 39)

This metamorphosis happens everywhere, in the “fare vending boxes” that take us to “parks and gardens”; in the eidetic memory of the meditator; in the gaps between words; in the sweaty palm to palm of early love, the later disintegration of love, and above all, in the amazing (“no hands!”) biology of a growing human embryo:

Tonight you are knitting a nest,
weaving a magnificent
cephalopod of a placenta
internally, no hands!
merely tuning in and turning on
a mandebrot set of cells towards each other,
allowing their incalculable sums
their resolutions,
in embryonic pools of serum,
in the fernery of your womb.(“dressing the nursery”, 5)

The poems are often funny — sometimes subtly, as in “the Success bridges” which plays with male expectations, working in Manley-Hopkins styled Sprung rhythm: “peer-driven, dad-demanded”. The poem slowly spirals to a single syllable, italicised “court.” “the Success bridges” uses formal language to construct a picture of government, and maintains a balance between slightly old-fashioned regality, and self-mockery: “plying gloss and soaps for barter/ inattentive to the end.” The humour is more overt in poems like “crying Wolf”: “Now whipped, baffled and failing,/Because you refuse to play.” (62). None of the poems are easy, though, and multiple readings, with the odd looked up word, repay the reader with increased depth.

Sometimes Eliades’ cuts across genre – combining music with words and art to produce a complete work that is all of these things and something else entirely. “brett whiteley, Internuncio” should be irritating with its musical direction on the left annotating the poetry on the right. But in this case, there is so much respect for the artist, so much knowledge of colour, image, light, that it all comes together perfectly in this portrait of the human legend, mingling with his work:

Mod, mf A dissolute broth of a boy, a will nebulous as gospel,
His soul in respose bird-resolute,
Like a sphere. (16)

The poems in 3rd i are dense, even at their simplest, and in most cases, form and meaning work together beautifully. There are a few poems where the Eliades gilds the lily however, cutting his gorgeous words into pieces of word play which impede rather than create meaning. In “eden”, words break down: call and answer, hint at things like arguments, relationships, and the exhaustion of new parenting, but are too obtuse in the end with their chopping and dropping to give up something complete. The reader is left cut off from the poem’s meaning. Similarly, with tongue-in-cheek, the Derrida-inspired “Especially 187” does little more for the reader than cleverly confirm the obtuseness of semiotics. Though it pokes fun at Lemmata, perhaps rightly so, it isn’t really any less obtuse, or less difficult, than what it’s poking fun at:

That’s enough, sufficient, satis, and ‘satire of the abyss’
Its foreign-language titled vogue,
Mute coffin keeps the last word mute
What arrogance, / finally, phew! (35)

Eliades can be forgiven a little self-indulgent fun though, because the lapses are few, and when he moves away from the cleverness, he produces such intense imagery – bringing the reader into such close intimacy, that there is that sense of seeing something familiar in a completely new light. At its best, and it is often at its best, this book provides the reader with exactly what the title suggests: a true third eye/i experience – a whole new way of seeing both the world, and ourselves:

Adhere, preserve this:
to taste your tongue is to coalesce from liquid to solid,
scorch consciousness,
threaten the stable self,
and embrace the front. (“kundalini rising”, 17)

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.