Saving Grace...

Kevin Saving on
Gary Beck

Remembrance and other poems (2008)
(origamicondom.org)
 

It's In The Doing...

Whilst the French might have invented vers libre, it took the Americans to re-package it as 'free verse' and to tool it, with characteristic hoo-ha, into Town. That's, increasingly, how I've come to think of the phenomenon: as an enormously long line - often literally - of mass-produced, easy-to-assemble, chug-along little vehicles rolling off the stocks in any colour you like - as long as it's grey.
  Gary Beck's new chapbook ('cyber-book'?) is by-no-means the worst offender in this deleterious cavalcade - that, probably, would be W.C. Williams' apology for stealing plums (which belongs, more properly, pinned to a fridge-door rather than masquerading in published form). In fact, Beck (a New York theatre director who, as his blurb informs us, has also worked as a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver) finds some engaging, humane and perceptive things to say. But do these reflections/observations justify the praise-word poem?
  'Abandoned' - the chapbook's first entry and therefore, presumably, its most-pondered - serves as a fairly representation example:
 
  Abandoned in the desert
  I dream rescues,
  while the smiting sand
  strips the shimmering flesh
  from my rejected bones.
  Where is the guide?
  Wagon master of the soul's journey
  fording rivers,
  repelling ambushes,
  then leaving me behind,
  a companion to the voyage
  who turned the wheel
  harder than anyone,
  but questioned the road.
 
So, to reprise, we've got a desert, a wagon-train, a river, an ambush, a voyage and a road, all in fourteen lines. And
whilst a certain reliance on the adjectival is forgivable in a man who also writes short-stories, what exactly is the descriptive 'shimmering', doing loitering in his demonstrably gruesome tableau in which flesh is stripped, bones are rejected and where sand smites? Genuine poetry ought, surely, to involve more than a succession of loosely-connected images careering around a series of irregular line-breaks.
  Beck has written (in his monograph An Assertion of Poetry) that he finds himself "more concerned with the message, rather than the 'poetic' quality of poetry", so he may, possibly, forgive the odd quibble. When, in 'Betrayers', he writes of how 'the men of World War II...came back with grosser appetites...{to become}...the makers of power/ the abusers of tomorrow' it is difficult to fault this as an analysis of post-war American politics. 'Once in the Bronx' charts the decline of a neighbourhood in an anecdotal, yet heart-felt threnody:
 
   I think my girlfriend was crushed
  beneath the wreckage of her house of dreams
  ...somewhere in the Bronx.
 
And in 'Brief Moments by the East River' there's a snapshot of urban alienation whose arresting poignancy is unmatched elsewhere in the collection's eighteen pages:
 
  A yellow butterfly flutters,
  sucking off undernourished weeds,
  tries to cross the highway,
  doesn't make it.
  The helicopter spotting traffic
  doesn't notice.
 
If we discard one contentious abstract noun, poetry, for a moment, I'd reckon that Mr Beck would be a good man to share a bourbon with: his mind is questing and his heart well-sited.
  Let's allow him the last word:
 
  "I write what I write because it springs out of my experience in this complicated life. Calculation or gain has never directed what I do. The doing is everything."
 
Amen to that.

Kevin Saving © 2008