CUTBANK REVIEWS: Eidolon by Ken White
Reviewed by Myrrah Dubey
Ken White’s first full-length collection, Eidolon, a self-proclaimed opera, is an exploration of what is here, what is otherworldliness, and what transcends those modes. It pushes its language to describe existence, the act of existing, and the sense of being—through fleshed sound, and pragmatic, cinematic imagery. Coupled with Carson Ellis’s elegant illustrations, Eidolon provides a backdrop and score to set anyone’s self-mythology and semblance into motion.
The first section of the book, “Somnambular,” opens with the poem, “This Apparition,” which tells us that this conflation is not coincidental:
I have withheld from you by night I am comprised of thread
spun from carded air, can divide
myself or seduce the loom and widen such with wind
that if you abide yet on this earth and breathe
you cannot help but contain me
in some small portion.
White does not invite us into the collection, but tells us that we’ve already become and have always been a part of it, that its threads are pieces of our own fabric, cords of our own vocality. As the section moves on, the auditory qualities of the work become “conspicuous beyond vision,” but with a lilting sleight:
Between springs, ankles colt-swindled based on sight and
artificial things, delight in sound, sound, for melody
is a most base might of another artificial strain
(“As One Bereft of Reason”)
Or, in another confession,
I cannot give more
sufficient voice than to split the shaft that split
the shaft that almost hit the mark.
(“Disrobing Him of His Body Itself”)
White pleasantly establishes then half-questions the sonorous elements of his voices and musicality, though they maintain their presence and momentum throughout the book, through his sometimes detached but always intimate diction.
At times, sentence fragments and superbly timed line breaks serve the speed and resonance of the way the poems channel themselves. At others, there is a quiet sorrow that is delicately played out in more liberal use of page space, and a slower, more parsed cadence is organically supplied and observed. The pacing is surely one of the finest aspects of the work.
Finally, it is important to appreciate Eidolon as a performance piece. While it makes for a fantastic read when one is alone, it is most enjoyed when read aloud in a group setting. With turns taken, and perhaps a hearty fire nearby. The meditative, investigative, and emotional intelligence of White’s speakers and characters allow room for and encourage ample participation and playful observation of what is necessarily other in the work and world.
Eidolon, of course, comes highly recommended. It is a book that sweeps one up into a vividness and candor that can earnestly and unaffectedly fulfill the hope of its title-poem:
Before I breach horizon, my only wish
is that my speech might stitch the atmosphere
between your ear and (figure clasps hand to breast) here.
Ken White is a poet and screenwriter who divides his time between Montana and Southern California and teaches Screenwriting in the MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He co-wrote and co-produced the feature film Winter in the Blood, and has adapted Debra Earling’s Perma Red for the screen, which he is attached to direct. He is currently adapting the YA novel Stolen for the screen with Lucy Christopher.