Blind Verse by Marck L. Beggs [Salmon Press, 2015] $15.10
What is true about poetry is that when I find a book that I like, I often live with it for some time. Poetry comes into and out of print like Banquo at a literary banquet, so there’s never any guarantee an audience will find these elusive independent works. And that is what makes poetry books so collectable.
These days, everybody’s obsessed with tracing their lineage, to see if they can discover some explanation for their own talents, or lack thereof. Divided into two parts, “Travelogue,” and “Lyrics and Narratives,” Blind Verse establishes a lineage that searches through classical antiquity, Scandinavian, Irish, and American landscapes, all within parameters that barely suppress the writer’s own bemused irony at what he discovers.
The Irish Poet
Kevin Higgins has the worst posture
of any poet in Irish history.
I suspect that if you pushed him
down a flight of stairs, his
lank physique would respond
gracefully as a slinky, bouncing
down stair from stair to our collective
amusement and amazement. I suspect
aliens will want to study him some day.
The history of Irish posture is thick
with pain, like yoga in a gravel pit.
Ireland’s greatest hero, Cú Chulainn,
had to prove himself by crouching like a dog
to pay back the actual dog that he,
himself, slaughtered. Seamus Heaney tilted
like the Leaning Tower of Whiskey.
And Yeats dropped to his knees
to hear the whisper of a fairy.
In African folklore, a frog
swallows Cinderella and vomits her out,
but she is crooked, leaning to one side.
So he swallows her again until
he gets it right. But that original purge
is what explains the Irish Poet:
imperfect, tragic, and a little bent.
Playing roughhouse with a contemporary Irish poet provides a transgressive opening that is further embellished through satirical comments about Cú Chulainn. Seamus Heaney, and W. B. Yeats. as if Beggs is out to find his place in the pantheon. The poem revels in comic lines: “The history of Irish posture is thick/with pain, like yoga in a gravel pit.” However the most surprising leap is from Irish literary history to African folklore, where the real spoiler is Cinderella vomited up by a frog. Outrageous and pugnacious, Beggs upends this squabble with words applicable not only to Kevin Higgins . who I assume is his Salmon Press publisher, but also to himself: “imperfect, tragic, and a little bent.”
Marck Beggs draws from pop culture and ancient myth to create witty verse that hymns an ancient lyre to the raucous modern world, ranging from a hilarious celebration of Pussy Riot’s critique of Russian and American culture to heartfelt amazement at the mercy of love. Experimenting with forms, from sonnet to pantoum, these poems delight in undercutting sentimentality, but never at the expense of honest feeling.
Blind Verse 2
I need to read you in braille, in cool wind
on the shore of the lake. I want to smell
you with my tongue like a serpent winding
through the garden. When evening droops over
your shoulders like a shawl of negative
light, the horizon will glow lavender
and lift the shoreline to its lips. And then
we will hear the dark moaning through our skin.
The country dogs howl like snapping timbers
in the fire of another decade.
Wind-chimes play colorless chords for the deaf.
The tree line is silent, remembering
through the darkness the outline of your face –
which can rarely see itself – forged in grace.
This metaphysical sonnet risks sincerity and earns its remarkable ending, thanks to the surprising way “the horizon will glow lavender/and lift the shoreline to its lips.” Lush and erotic, love permeates the whole landscape, recreating its own Eden and serpent, full of sounds whose “snapping timbers” become “wind-chimes” playing “colorless chords.”
And, of course, the dogs. There are dogs everywhere in these poems, hidden but scenting out human foibles and tenderness. Marck Beggs has not lost the scent, even if he calls this collection Blind Verse.
Even the weeds smell ornamental,
short sniffs of lavender and liquor.
The pale sun moans behind old clouds,
wind-shifting between waltz and nostalgia.
Birds inhabit insane kings,
heroes play the roles of dogs,
Aad the crowned princess of the bog
lifts her head to the shovel’s scrape and ping.
You see what I mean? It’s almost as if DylanThomas’ Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog had sprung back to life.
[November 24, 2017]