by Ayten Tartici
Published by Wave Books, 2009 | 88 pages
Joshua Beckman’s latest book of poems, Take It, is liable to divide its readers. There will be those who gush to the nearest ear about how Beckman is as close to the real deal as it gets in contemporary American poetry. They will say that his writing disarms skepticism with transparency, overwhelms irony with compassion, and frustrates headiness with candor. From the sequence (none of the poems are titled, which gives the impression that all of the “poems” are episodes of one kind or another from a book length poem called Take It), they may cite these early lines to make their case: “Every day is the same. Some awkward/ grip upon the friends who are never there./ No little wisdom entertains us when we are down./ When we are down we want fear and the acts of God./ How perfectly do you understand this? I don’t/ know that at all.” Others may hear artifice in his humility and think that all his talk of grace smacks of literary device. Thankfully, these readers make easy the decision as to whom to invite to your Christmas party: obviously, not them.
In the three years since his previous book, Shake, it would seem that Beckman’s voice has aged about thirty years. Some will call it a coming into his own, a fulfillment, reaching full maturation. But I am inclined to describe it as an awakening. I hope you can hear it in this poem’s first few lines: “This playful dance./ The great cornfields in harvest./ What monstrous impulse allows us to turn on those we love./ I went sliding down the hill on a block of ice.” So compelling, and so damn endearing, is his voice that there were times during Take It that I began paying attention to its action the same way I listen to operas in the original Italian that I don’t understand—to delight in range.
Even though Beckman isn’t overly concerned with making meaning, he isn’t on a crusade to distort it either. At one point he writes: “The fluctuations of life. Yes, yes/ I understand folly.” If anything could serve as the book’s guiding metaphor, perhaps these lines can. That poems digress and drift like life is not an original metaphor. But I do think that for Beckman it challenges his ability to accept the poem’s instability as much as life does. What is harnessed and what is let go?
Regardless of whether or not answers are your deal, you should take Take It with you. It opens and closes the case that a voice is out there listening.