ThisPoem/WhatSpeaks?/ADay by Tom Beckett
(Otoliths, Australia, 2008)
ThisPoem/What Speaks?/ADay, as the title suggests, consists of three fine and substantial "medium length" poems, the kind that good poets (usually) work through for days, weeks, even months, at a time. That is, these kinds of poems, these medium length poems, are NOT simply "everyday" (nor "every day") or "occasional" poems. They're the kinds of poems one actually prefers to call "poetry" or "poming" instead of "poems." This is NOT to say that there is anything wrong with so-called "occasional poems," nor with any poems that arise and evolve quickly, in a burst of enthusiasm and inspiration, and get onto the page and largely finished in minutes or otherwise very brief, immediate actualizations/realizations of urgent inspiration. It's just to say that these particular Beckett poems here have at least the feel of "more sustained and extended concentration and commitment of Focus." And I believe that that is the way he, Tom Beckett, works, frequently, which is absolutely fabulous. The art of poetry is so abundantly democratized and, alas, so happily decentralized that infinite new brands of the stuff every day pop up on our beautiful blogs and other social networks as if the entire manufacture of "poetry" is now (over?) determined by the various and sundry technologies of the American Daily Narcissism Industry. It is thus always enormously consoling to see that at least one old-school practitioner of sustained concentration can maintain his standard and a focus on subject matter(s) or form for more than twenty-minutes of Starbucks caffeine rush. (Again, I have n=o=t=h=i=n=g against the penning, or even the speed-typing, of really, really fast, lightning-quick-thinking poming that produces said-and-done pieces of the one-two page varieties in seconds, and I write a lot of that kind of stuff, myself, sometimes very satisfyingly. I'm just saying that Beckett's poming here presents us ADHD and non-ADHD readers and consumers alike with old-fashioned sustained focus poetry that we know and trust required Unconscious processing (that is, full sleep and rest cycles) and time encompassing days and nights plural.)
That said, initially, I am turned off by any "poetry," "poming," or writing that would title itself with the word poem or the word poetry. Or that would use the word poem. Or that would take as its subject matter such a thing -- "poetry." But this is Tom Beckett, and he's quite different, so I take both the pen and the whole electric typewriter out from up my arse and relax a little bit. I know that as soon as I get past my usual impatience with so many run-of-the-mill "poetries" that never neglect to remind us that they're poetries by using poet and poem and poetry as key terms, I'll enter the Beckett poem with my wits about me and the proper patience I'll need to take in what for most readers is stuff just way too difficult for everyday narcissistic reading engagements... Beckett's poetry will yield substance, always, regardless words like poem and poetry might obtrude upon my sometimes ridiculously tight-assed sensibility and the chip I always place on my shoulders to tempt friend pomers to flick off, fuck off, beat off, chew off...
After all, "This poem / Proffers / its ass " (right straight from the get-go, in fact) and that "penetrates me" immediately, too. And yeah, it's "blue," both sad and faux-porno, among other things. And "colored / Outside / Its lines," which is (also) to say alienated like African-Americans in the U.S. have been so agonizingly alienated; as well as "outside" of what's in, and in fashion, and immediately accessible and acceptable; as well as, like a deliberately misbehaving OR like an innocently under- or pre-coordinated school child, UNABLE TO STAY WITHIN THE PRESCRIBED "margins"; as well as readable between the lines, not just at their surfaces or at their solid, obvious periods. And it's "parenthetical," as so much exceptionally good poetry is; that is, there's so much depth and breadth to what the lines/words offer, one needs yards and yards of parentheses to contain and to extrapolate what meaning has become facilitated; plus, well of course there's a little of the pomer's "parents" in the poem, no doubt, as well as a little of mine and yours and what was (unfortunately, surely) absent in our parenting, as well -- let's face it, this poet hits notes universal, notes relevant to all of us.
So maybe "This poem / Is fucked" and maybe "This poem / Sucks," but "This poem / Requires a / Degree / Of leniency." No, NOT "a degree" from the University, though most of us even minimally "ready" to read something this sophisticated DO have college degrees, maybe not Ph'Ds that would in some cases preclude us from writing something as courageous and pure as "This poem / Is fucked," but, Yes, college degrees, nonetheless. It's just that our college degrees don't work against us (the way too many college degrees work against too many straight members of the college "educated" classes of our society and impair their psyches' abilities to appreciate the kind of intelligence that can produce this kind of substance): "This poem / Sleeps with / Its dreams. // This poem / Sleeps with / The fishes" and "This poem / Stares into / A mirror." And guess what ALWAYS? "This poem / Is taking / A chance." And thus, "This poem / Multiplies," and at the same time that it "Subdivides," and in fact it DOES do this, also; it "Posits / A rhetorical / Stance." Hmmm, now that's not an everyday occurence, is it, positing a rhetorical stance? You know what, "This poem" has got guts, and legs, and balls, as well as eyes and ears and brain.
"What Speaks?" has got legs, too. How could it not, with lines like "Letters splatter in a puddle" (Jackson Pollock School of Avant Po gone oh so wrong?) and "Graphite nights," which are, for this reader, poems in themselves. (Oh, graphite, you know, Next Generationeers, is the lead in old-fashioned pencils, what previous generations still use to pen their poems because in many cases the mind moves more slowly and in tune with the body and the heart and the breath, or so the theory would go, and Yes, that doesn't mean that using a typewriter in order to keep up with a brain that wants, or may want, to move even faster than the heart and arm and wrist and hand and pen can move cannot be equally effective in other writing situations...)
Actually, the complete line is "Graphite nights / Going down / On erasers," but I didn't like the "going down / On" part, but that's just stupid me trying to alienate some of the same "sex" that Beckett, I believe, wants to UN-alienate, address and undress the Puritan and the Puritanical in all of us -- Goddesses Bless Him! And heaven knows that (one of) the other meanings there is that the poet is (perhaps furiously) wearing down the pen from the lead/graphite end until it gets to the eraser end, too. And there is nothing sensationalistically (hyper) "sexed up" about that kind of image; rather, the poet is truly working honestly hard and seriously (and should be taken seriously).
Oh, I know that I've been on a Post-structuralist RAID (redundant array of insipid dissing) or rampage, of late... And maybe that obsession would explain my finding this line troublesome at first: "You-bris. Check Derrida on circumfession/circumfictions." Don't get me wrong! I love the puns: Hubris. Cum. Confessions. Cum-fiction. Circumcision. Circumspection. But who can ARGUE against intelligence that reads Nietzche so brilliantly and so sensibly: "knowledge = paralysis. Action = epilepsy = involuntary." // (S)he can't remember the convulsions."
And that's BEFORE he, Beckett, writes this immaculate, daunting SELF-awareness: "Parent-thesis: maybe I should interview -- no, interrogate my own / fucking selves (deliv, deliber-atively -- damn it = misspelled, but not salvaged) at the edge of the plural, almost raveling." EXACTLY! Like R. Silliman -- the poet wants to allow the misspellings because they are, for lack of more modernized and less loaded terminology, "Freudian slips" which the very best process pomers/poets recognize as alerts to meaning worth salvaging or meaning that leads to other meaning that the Unconscious is trying to salvage. Or at least that's my interpretation of "not salvaged," and indeed in this case, evidently, Beckett's "deliv-, delibera-tively == damn it - misspelled, but not salvaged)" was NOT able to grab the whole enchilada of what he sensed was there out from his deliciously accessible because long trusted and coordinated Unconscious...
This third "medium length" poem, "A Day," is not, I think, my favorite of the three. ("What speaks?" is certainly my favorite.) "A Day" is not even, I think, my second favorite of the three. Why not? Is it thus, perhaps, the one that I should pay most attention to, the one that I should take more time with?
Surely "A Day" is the most unequivocably autobiographical of the three poems in this thoroughly adult book ThisPoem/WhatSpeaks?/ADay. Oh, the others can be intimately tied to Tom Beckett, and there are no bones about that -- if anybody, or at least any male, in America is intimate, it's Tom Beckett -- but with the other two poems, it can be argued that "a speaker" narrates, or filters, the material. In "A Day," the speaker, per se, is Tom Beckett, and he's "all in," as the Poker expression/term for risking one's entire wad, goes. He's ALL IN "A Day"; the poem couldn't really work any other way. It's part narrative, part story of a man's life from waking in the morning to retiring for the night, part chronicle of the most unromanticized and least glamorous iota of the pomer's existence; it is thus the most intimate, most genuine, most authentic, and least "marketable," least "commercial," least narcissistic, least extravagant, and most thoroughly unavoidable, routinely responsible, "disciplined" aspects of his existence and life. Vintage INTIMACY, vintage vulnerability, vintage risk-taking where other poets so industriously impress upon us how like Frank O'Hara's their flip, carefree, exhuberantly unmessy and unassailable lives are (Editor´s Note: this poem is presented as quad-centered in the book):
a bit --
having to dress,
from the closet
cruel whirl [world]
Depressing? Yeah, a little bit. At least I think so, but then how different is my own life some days, many days, if looked at through the same clear lens and no rose-colored glasses. Oh, I see some other windows and I don't want to p(l)aint them black or any other colors, but I'm not going to deny that -- I CANNOT deny that -- they are pretty damn grey, and occasionally gray, and frequently, like Tom Beckett's, at best pale. But then, I live in western New York, not far from T.B.'s own "rust belt" Kent, Ohio, not NYC or LA or Hollywood, or wherever LIFE is apparently any arbitrary, post-structuralist color or shade in the seemingly innumerable rainbows we choose from.
Steve Tills’ books include Invisible Diction (Loose Gravel, 1996); Behave (dPress, 2004); and Rugh Stuff (theenk Books, 2009). He is the editor/publisher of the online and hard copy literary journal Black Spring. He has had poetry published recently in William James Austin’s Blackbox and Mark Young’s Otoliths, and he has work forthcoming in Daniel Zimmerman’s Arsenal.