Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Top Ten Chicago Poets: Dan Beachy-Quick

Dan Beachy-Quick was born in Chicago in 1973. I heard him read from his first book, North True South Bright in 2003, when he taught at The Art Institute. Since then he has written four more full-length poetry collections, four chapbooks and a collection of essays. His honors include a Lannan Foundation Residency and he is currently an assistant professor of English at Colorado State University in Boulder.

I did not immediately take to Beachy-Quick's work. I did not care for his reading style. This, coupled with the density of his diction, made the material almost impenetrable. But as I grew as a poet, the ground of Beachy-Quick's terrain began opening up, revealing flowing rivers of lava deep inside his language that rose to the surface and created landscapes previously unknown to me. And, as in the geological process of earth's tectonic plates plowing into themselves, the key to Beachy-Quick's world is the tidal forces created by its own language, working against itself to reshape worlds and create new ones.

Here is the opening to "North/South Composition," with apologies to Dan for the formatting ("..." stands in for triple spacing):

When the falcon rose the falcon
Rose to focus
The whole field into a single blade
of grass the mole did not know not
To move
I would...my song worse...if truer
If truer my song 'falconed'
My eye wide in falcon's eye
If the field narrowed as the angle grew
If the field narrowed as the tapered wing rose
I would...if truer...make my song
The cord the falcon rose upon
The mole's a student of dirt and dark
I would...my song...worse if truer
Sing in two my tongue to snap the cord
Tethering its talon to my tooth
And let the falcon free of chord and cord
Though falcon were more me than me
Was my song a feathered thing?--
How sing the sharp wing unbroken
When my mouth is broken wing?--
Hoe be bird but sing the bird
Truer...than I...sing me
Unless, unless
From talon to tooth the taut cord could bear a
Hand not known to pluck
The taut cord could bear a hand unbidden
To pluck from song
One note which sings us both

Not only is the language syntactically interesting, but it is gorgeous as well--again something I didn't get from Beachy-Quick's own reading. Partly because of the assonance and partly because of the repetition of words and lines, there is a sense of audio unfolding and refolding throughout his poems. Sometimes, as in the following example from "Unworn," the same line is repeated with different punctuation, not simply for syntactical interest, but in order to fully mine the meanings from the raw ore of sound:

Count me among those almonds...your eyes
Count me...among those almonds your eyes
Never opened. Your mouth...on the floor-fallen pear
Never opened...your mouth on the floor-fallen pear
Count among those almonds...floor-fallen, your eyes
Your mouth...on the pear never...opened me

Collaboration is not uncommon among Chicago poets. The following excerpt from Canto, a chapbook by Dan Beachy-Quick and Srikanth Reddy (another Chicago poet previously written about on this blog), demonstrates new poetic wine in an old wineskin form of terza rima. Andrew Wessels has described this, as well as the other poems in the chapbook, as using formal structure to suck the reader into a whirlpool, spinning a poetics of eternal motion toward a depthless center. Spiraling is also the origin...a process of being passed back and forth between the two authors, growing into its complete form."


Figure one. The spiral. The one figure
Smithson built of counter-clockwise rock
In the Great Salt Lake. Its coil beggars

Description. Figure two. Same rocks
Unseen in water. Figure three. Tourist
Looks down at map. I made a mistake.

I kept the time. I clocked the miles west.
The car door open like a hurt bird's wing,
She scratches her head, wherein nests a forest

Deep dark down of deduction and thing
Wherein she flies in spiral from tree to ground
To gather the wild grass for her weaving

In which the eggs will sit, pages unbound,
The manuscript on the car seat. Working draft.
Please do not circulate. Return if found

To the following address. The pleasure-craft
Pivot on the spindles of their masts
And motor home. Figure three-and-a-half;

The child in the crow's nest cries and laughs
As the wind carries the origami bird
From his hand, a boy's invention miscast

As real, thrust up among gulls, awkward
Dive into the sea. See? It unfolds
Into Cook's 1811 nautical map of the world,

I have seen some with a ring fixed in the hole
Of the ear, but not hanging to it, also some
With rings made of some elastick substance roled

Up like the Spring of a Watch. Kingdom, come.

Dan Beachy-Quick is a prolific writer--nine books, including his chapbooks and book of essays, in as many years. In all honesty, I have only done a careful reading of one, and a partial reading of another--but that is enough for me to place him in my top ten Chicago poets. It is enough to know that I will continue to allow his work to challenge my
reading and my writing.

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