The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

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DEC 21-JAN 22 Issue

Returning: Hank Lazer’s field recordings   of mind   in morning

Hank Lazer
field recordings   of mind   in morning
(BlazeVOX, 2021)

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

–Robert Duncan

if that awakening can be carried into the day

if it is as a lantern or candle held in the hand

if the eyes bear witness to the slow

unfolding the subtle caressing of first light

across the hillside & into the pasture

if often i am permitted to return to a meadow

if the light is the light of mind

& the lantern is the word itself first light & first word

quiet & present as the pasture itself

–Hank Lazer

For Robert Duncan and Hank Lazer, the price of permission to the loved place with its quotidian miracles is a commitment to particulars, to deep awareness, and to gratitude.

The meadow must be of the mind. No matter how physical the meadow is, leaving its heavy morning dew on the boots that tread there, it always unfolds itself in the mind or nowhere at all.

Hank Lazer’s remarkable new poetry collection, field recordings of mind in morning, is a sequence of chants rung upon the constants and the changes of his returns to a place that offers solace and restoration. Even the few lines quoted above reveal many of the key elements that recur throughout Lazer’s series: “awakening,” “hand,” eyes,” “light,” “hillside,” “mind,” “word,” “quiet,” and “present.” Then, there are “way,” “thinking,” “writing,” “three brown dogs,” “being,” “moment,” “time,” “walking”; and this list is still partial.

In the afterword/notes to the collection, Lazer explains:

Carrollton (Alabama) and Duncan Farm are synonymous: sometimes I use one name, sometimes the other. Duncan Farm …is the 200 acres farm that my wife and I inherited a few years ago…Over the past several years, the farm has increasingly become a key place for my meditation, reading, writing, photography, and observation – all most especially in the early morning.”

Field recordings is part of an ongoing exploration of the similarities of meditation (zazen) and the writing of a kind of spontaneous, improvisatory, immediate poetry – a writing of the moment, a series of transcriptions (or recordings) of specific instances of (morning) consciousness.

In order to provide a potential reader with as clear a sense as possible of Lazer’s central strategy of balancing returns and repetitions with differences and variations, a method that is based on the wonderful paradox that is at the heart of the entire collection.

i live in the present moment of my reading

i live in the present moment of my writing

So, turning from one poem to the next, a reader can fully expect to encounter words and phrases that are repeated. “All art is made, I think, out of recurrence. The point is to have recurrence so that it isn’t mere repetition…The idea is to have these recurrences so that they will always turn up as new…” (Louis Zukofsky) To his great credit, this is what Lazer accomplishes. Each new morning brings delights that are radiantly different since they are re-lighted by the sun of that particular day.

whether the quiet morning

felt like repetition

or the miracle that

it truly is in

its unique particularity”

substance singing


various turns

of the infinite pathways

of change

Writing occurs which is in the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody.” (Zukofsky) Things of the world are perceived by the senses, conveyed to the mind, and made into music by a movement that must include, ultimately, the hand.





one or two

small gestures

at a time

of thinking

in transit

through the hand

intricate nerves ligaments &

muscles of this illuminated

hand as its writing

opens up

into the light

& the specific

prospects possible

in the invisible body

of an exact music

it is happening right now

appearing & disappearing as these words

through this hand become

an instance of time

i moved aside

to let them arrive

the sudden

pulse of words

As day turns to new day, of course, each person cannot evade being in mourning, Lazer reminds the reader.

of course

living now

must be


what river or

way we move upon

by grace of this

slowly aging boat

this decomposing body

now who was

my father

to say star matter

may be true

but it doesn’t

touch the strangeness

of time

& the painful

beauty of

being here

& moments of knowing


what is happening

not so much

attention to

the dying hand or

the integrity

of the gesture

but a quality

of attention

learned from

the page

that continues

everywhere else

Notably, Lazer, Duncan, and Zukofsky have all acknowledged the phenomenon of relationship, communality among artists across the spectrum of time. They firmly believe that any artist who creates without this awareness is necessarily adrift. One should not read Lazer’s sequence without recognizing his kinship with William Carlos Williams.

so much

depends upon

it all hangs

in the balance

so much so

time of these words

making a place      & it all

depends upon your

being here      really being


three dogs

at rest beside

the writing desk

glazed with rain

water beside the black & white

cows in the green pasture

so that time

is a light

you can de

pend on


if given

the time to

or being in

the time of

as thinking is

a way of


in time

One could even argue that this stanza looks forward in time to Lazer’s mind and to this present collection:

as love


each day upon the twig

      which may die

      springs your love

fresh up

      lusty for the sun

the bird’s companion”

–from “Primavera,” WC Williams

A close listening to the musical collaboration between Lazer and Holland Hopson—also entitled field recordings of mind in morning and available online from bandcamp.comwill genuinely enhance anyone’s appreciation of the textual collection. Fifteen of the book’s poems are performed in an improvisatory manner, with Lazer reading and often rereading lines as Hopson accompanies with his banjo that creates a sound like an uncanny melding of Appalachia and Japan.


“I mean either you show that you’re alive in this world, in making something, or you’re not.”

an arduous practice

that becomes over

years a tunneling

through & back

to the enigmatic

richness of this


,,,these few words

eyes      to mind      to heart

yes      yes      let us

take it all to heart


Joel Chace

Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as, Tip of the Knife, Eratio, Otoliths, Word For/Word, and Golden Handcuffs Review. Most recent collections include Humors, from Paloma Press, Threnodies, from Moria Books, and fata morgana, from Unlikely Books.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

All Issues