AQ16 Summer 2016 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte
Utmost by Hiram Larew. I. Giraffe Press, ISBN 978-0-9972243-0-6, 35 pages.
Resonance by Gary Beck. Dreaming Big Publications, ISBN 978-1523916405, 135 pages.
During the last quarter, I received two books that I felt were worth reviewing due to their artistry and scope. Both are by present or past AQ authors and both describe similar concerns such as aging and love. However, their poems have different settings such as country v city and the natural v the human worlds and different approaches. The first book is a poetry chapbook entitled Utmost by AQ16 contributor Hiram Larew. The second is a poetry book entitled Resonance by AQ12 contributor Gary Beck.
Utmost’s 23, one-page or half-page poems are suggestive, meditative, find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and use common words to express enigmatic thoughts. “Anything Can Happen” is the most concerned with the inexpressible and the unknown “You love what’s next more than people—/…You’re so grateful for what’s unknown.” The poem “What Do You Think” also describes Larew’s love of the unexpected. “But most of all/I worship stuck doors/Because they make me blink when I didn’t expect to” or the upside-down world of “Marvely” “When bad tastes like candy/And good is just ache?”
Thoughts about aging are also found in “Boy Howdy.” Larew refers to aging by saying his father’s: “…coat pockets were really my teenage years.//Carry on now is how I feel now — ” In “Vista” he writes: “I’m new at being old.” “Rafters” opens with “Maybe you can’t roar to start/Anymore as others can.” The next poem, “Your Life’s” terminal line is “Not forever but a dot.” along with “It’s Getting Late,” which comments on the aging process: “Too often it seems shoulders are cold.”
Larew’s poems are also about the comfort that he feels in the outdoors “…the best work you will ever do is when/You are opening the barn.” His enigmatic use of images from the natural world to express his thoughts are most prevalent in “Who Is” when he writes: “What I won’t say is why/What I will say is look/I might even whisper smoke—/But I won’t say you.” His line “I will only love a small piece of sky” shows once again his love and trust of the natural world. In “But More” we can see Larew’s artistic delight in the natural world and the ability to imagine other, unknown places. “To swell summer as apples do/Or shade swirls like bridges can/To be lights on in other rooms”
The last and title poem brings the writer back to the natural world with images of “I would be garlands older…”spoons of dirt…”an idea that scratches radishes redder”…”A bird straddling two branches.” These poems are imagistic, enigmatic little gems with one foot in the natural world and the other in the world of the imagination. I highly recommend this collection.
Resonance by Gary Beck also discusses the subject of mortality and especially aging, (among others) but within a New York City nightscape. “Old Age” for example which mentions: “youth’s unebbing hunger/is eternal and denied.” reminds me of William Yeats’ “Long Legged Fly” poem in which Caesar considers his battle options. Other mentions are included in the poems “Change” in which the writer is asked to be a pallbearer for a man he barely knew: “I think about an acquaintance, now dead./I never liked him…I look at pictures of the dead/and barely remember their faces.” or in the very short, “Woeful Vision” where the poet sees a woman he once knew: “No longer young/but not older than me…and a wrinkled face/that has forgotten smiles.”
Unlike Larew, Beck directly describes social and sexual relations. In “Opium Escape” Beck describes the intoxicating and sometimes unwise nature of being in love. In “Fond Pause,” “Sad Mate,” “Two Songs of Lust” and “Separation” he describes the separation felt by the unloved from the active world that goes on. “Severance” is about the intensity of a one-night stand/brief encounter, “Renunciation” about how unrequited love that burns itself out and “Electronic Loss” includes new metaphor about losing a love in a telephone booth or over the phone. Beck’s social consciousness is best expressed in his poems “Dire Prediction” in which his wonders what the the loss of jobs to the service economy will mean to those “who will walk through fire, bullets, blood,/to protect us.” In “Children of Deprivation” he wonders about the effect of capitalistic hoarding from poor in a land of plenty—“know swollen barns of grain/rotting on a distant government preserve.” In “Rebel’s Pliant” he hopes humankind will overcome “its obliterating madness.”
Buried within Resonance, however, on page 98 of this 135 page collection, is the book’s real touchstone, a vignette about the poet’s first submission and its relative worth, entitled “First Poem Sent — Oct. 1962.” In a few lines, Beck describes the respect a poet’s hard, passionate work receives as it is sent on its way: “(I) gave it to the postman./Without a glance/he tossed it on a pile/and it fell to the floor.” Other ars poetic or ars longa, vita brevis poems can be found in this volume including “Possession” with its “dozen poems on my desk…works of beauty wisdom joy wild hearty lusty obscene reverent ecstatic maudlin curious erotic mad exuberance….” “Art Calls” is a prose poem that goes right to the gut as it describes a poet’s struggle in discovering and fulfilling his calling.
There are many good poems in Resonance. However, the volume could do with a thematic regrouping of the poems to give the reader a better overview of Resonance’s approximately 110 poems. In addition, I would suggest moving “First Poem Sent” to the very beginning so it could function as a sort of prologue or proem. These two changes would help a reader dip more easily into this long and varied poetry collection.