September 2004

Olivia Cronk

poetry

Your Time Has Come by Joshua Beckman

One of the things that pops up on a Google search of Joshua Beckman is the phrase “rock star poet.” Beckman appears to have an approved knack for “hip” poetry. I say this with no value judgement, but rather as a statement of his aesthetic sensibility. Verse Press has published his fourth book Your Time Has Come and it is a sweet, and dare I say, very cool, little object. A 6” x 4” pocket book of a thing, Your Time just demands to go traveling. The packaging, so to speak, is minimal and clean. A strip of black and white water. Plain lettering. Bare pages. And the language inside mimics the object. Minimal. Clean. Easy. “Someone planted all those flowers/ and I like them.”

There are three things I take into account when thinking over Beckman’s book: 1) poetry books as objets d’art; 2) the form this verse takes, as an argument for reading in a certain way; and 3) the process employed in creating the collection. These issues are absolutely intertwined. As I have already described, the book is quite a trinket. I feel much the same way about old field guides and old textbooks. Many poetry books are both nice looking and filled with brilliant verse, but few are so easy to flip through and so accessible for light or contemplative reading. One example I can conjure is Ferlinghetti’s 1970 Back Roads to Far Places, a Basho-like collection. The poems are without titles and are printed in a font that resembles calligraphy. Some pages are embellished with small line drawings. Beckman’s book is reminiscent of this pretty package. The poems are small, short, title-less bits of wording. “Manhattan, gathered by water,/ you are useless buildings/ and only slightly salty.” “If a tree falls/ in the woods etc./ and so too with friends.” “I love how people keep dying/ and I can spend all day/ thinking about her petty comment.” And you just keep flipping to find such things. I noticed in my Google search that Beckman’s BA from Hampshire included studying “the art of the book.”

It is my belief that books like Beckman’s, consciously existing as objects, as well as collections of verse, beg to be read in different ways. When I first handled the book, I thumbed through it willy-nilly. I ended up reading most of the thing backward and in chunks, like I would a magazine, in an afternoon. A week later, while waiting for an appointment I was early for, I read it from front to back cover. Now, as I type, I keep it on my lap and flip the pages, trying to find a narrative. Almost like finding out what happens to the cartoon character in a real flip-book. Maybe the poems will arc in my hand. When reading some books in this way, I am vaguely conscious of undermining the intended structure. I cannot help but think, though, that Beckman is calling on his readers to do that very thing. Shuck sequence out the window. Shuck order. Shuck excess context. Embrace the clean and easy feeling of such a book. “I need to get out/ from under all this thinking,/ where’ve you been hiding?”

Finally, consider Beckman’s process. So spare and light are the words on each page, that they must be the result of a distillation. Moments in the writing suggest that Beckman was working from a daily-log. (He records his day, whatever small image or large doubt it contained. He goes over the recording with a comb and smoothes it out, encapsulates it.) The poems are sometimes funny, sometimes tender, but always point to a struggling life. Addiction possibly. Depression probably. Something troubles the narrator’s vision and it makes for a sad and lonely tone. The poems are always working desperately to find their way back to light and color. “It felt so good/ to get my sunburn,/ but now I’ve got it.” Beckman writes in much the same way that the book asks to be read—flipped through and glanced at, pieces missed and then discovered in a third or fourth reading, the whole collection a new thing every time you pick it up.

Your Time Has Come by Joshua Beckman
Verse Press
ISBN: 0972348751