Michael Bazzett’s second collection, Our Lands Are Not So Different, defies classification, it exists in its own world; a world seen once in a child’s dream, the model of which was constructed by “savants in the attics of Vienna.” One can detect influences or predecessors: Mark Strand, Jorge Luis Borges, children’s fables, and perhaps even certain sci-fi writers; and yet Bazzett’s imaginary cities are his own unique construction. Bazzett’s poems which often operate like fables are both familiar and utterly strange, and it is through this dichotomy that the poems receive their tension and their sense of wonder. Bazzett’s restless imagination takes many shapes, his poems are in turns—witty, pensive, humorous, cryptic, domestic, otherworldly, absurd, melancholic, philosophical, tender, and at all times full of longing.
Like the Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes the poems in Our Lands Are Not So Different operate within the confines of their own logic; made up of pieces of the real world, the pieces are arranged in such a way that they create their own beautiful logic. And like Cornell's boxes, Bazzett’s poems often blur the lines between childhood and adulthood, between play and art. In “The Operation” adults, almost at random, surgically remove the imagination of some children, the implication is that afterwards they then consume it as a kind of drug. The world of this poem seems bizarre and yet, isn’t this what so many adults do to children—repress their imagination through punishment as well as by pressuring them to conform. The adults think they are helping the children prepare for adulthood in the “real” world, and yet a part of them longs for child’s world of unleashed imagination, and they are perhaps even jealous of it. How do we retain our sense of wonder? A good place to start is by reading Bazzett’s Our Lands Are Not So Different.
The real world fails the human spirit; it thwarts the spirit’s progress, compresses it down, combats it directly, manipulates it, and fails to recognize its power. Bazzett understands this intuitively, and his poetry works against that failure by exposing it as well as offering alternative narratives.
Bazzett’s poems are also almost unnervingly self-aware, they are deeply concerned with the act of writing and recording, and how this both alters the world and is separate from it. Rarely have I read a book of poetry so capable of conveying its own excitement for books and how they can alter the way in which we perceive the world. From the opening poem, Bazzett invites the reader into his land which looks at times like the one we live within, and yet, he recognizes that this world is one we are rarely comfortable and at ease within, instead he writes:
Once you check in with the Central Registry
To read the dossier that has been compiled
to determine exactly who it is you think you are
then the rest is easy: just be yourself—
Bazzett writes “just be yourself” with a touch of irony, knowing this is actually the most challenging thing we can do, something most of us are failing at all of the time.
The second poem of the collection is titled “Verisimilitude,” which means something that resembles truth, but isn’t necessarily truth. In the poem, an out-of-work philosopher makes short films that ultimately reveal his fears, anxieties, and state of mind. Bazzett includes this poem at the beginning of his collection to give his reader a way to understand this book. In Our Lands Are Not So Different there are fears of humans ruining their own chance at survival, fear of losing one’s family to freak accidents, fear of becoming merely a tongue, anxieties attached to oppressive histories, as well as questions of culpability and mortality.
I often judge a book of poetry by the emotional response it elicits in me, though I am not sure this is the best way to judge this particular collection which engages the mind and heart in such a variety of ways. However, there was one poem that specifically struck a chord, in part due to my own personal connection with a similar story. In “Coming Home” a family drives comfortably back from a vacation, you can feel the love between the husband and wife, the impending crash has not yet occurred. A close childhood friend of mine died this way, along with her sister and parents, and I always struggle writing about it. But Bazzett captures what I have struggled to show, all the love and tenderness that should have been protected somehow is there in all its fragile unknowing. Luckily, Bazzett and his family survived this crash, though the psychological impact of this incident ripples through other poems within the collection.
The world doesn’t work the way it should; Michael Bazzett’s collection Our Lands Are Not So Different doesn’t just confirm this, it offers another way to approach life. One where humor can be tender, and imagination preserved, where the monsters under the bed can become friends, and the animals within us not repressed, but instead understood. Through Bazzett’s dreaming and thinking he is ultimately holding a mirror up to the world and telling it—you don’t have to look this way.
Our Lands Are Not So Different
Brunch: I found myself feeling a bit playful with this brunch. I arranged the sliced pears carefully atop a single leaf of green lettuce, and added drops of balsamic glaze, orange marmalade, and a spoonful of blue cheese. Served with a nice glass of cold Moroccan mint tea.Book Review of Our Lands are Not So Different