January 2005

Stephanie Anderson

poetry

Spell by Dan Beachy-Quick

Spell, Dan Beachy-Quick’s second and most recent book of poetry, is aptly named. The book begins slowly, cautiously, but soon enough the reader is caught up in its circular motion. At times this motion seems like a frustrating whirlwind, but on the whole it is intelligent, articulate, and worthwhile.

Certainly it proves a more interesting read for those familiar with Melville’s Moby Dick, as Beachy-Quick essentially meditates on this classic text as a way to engage with larger questions of reading and writing. He divides his book into five chapters (plus a prologue and “afterword”). But unlike less successful spin-offs or re-writes of classic texts, he not only co-opts the voices of the writer and the novel’s characters but also ponders the act of reading, endowing text with an agency similar to the white whale’s. He blurs lines of narration, reality, and body, asking: Where does creation take place? Where does the written word spin off and become its own entity, beyond the possession of the writer? Where does “story” end and “life” begin?

Gao Xingjian writes, “Literature is simply man focusing his gaze on his self and while he does a thread of consciousness which sheds light on this self begins to grow.” Beachy-Quick self-consciously both focuses and expands this gaze. He writes of the “whale-line,”

	That line
Utters a wound to pause
The sentence  a thought

At margins quickens to become
Unknown  the stab of ink is in it:

Echoing the repetition of metaphor that epics employ, Beachy-Quick again and again relies on certain ideas and images. At the end of each chapter, he offers another stanza to “The Poem for the Body’s Blank” (under the premise that Ishmael has had this poem tattooed on his body post-action of Moby Dick), revealing the new stanza yet hiding the whole at the same time. The poem is essentially an exercise in repetition. However, he constantly shifts and changes these repetitions to ensure that they are echoes, not copies, of their previous manifestations. Combined with his innovative (if at times showy) compound nouns, his love of punctuation (think Dickinson), and his linguistic fireworks (slant and near rhyme), the reader may find moments vexing.

The read is worth it. Like Milton, he has perfected the art of line-breaks that result in delightful ambiguity -- although Beachy-Quick’s indentation may at times seem haphazard. And the sense of the poetry, if one takes the time to sound it out, is provocative. In one of the letters to the “editor,” Beachy-Quick writes,

I spoke vows the sea with silent waves
Erased. Held a hand for anchor --
Found the anchor at any depth proves land
Shoreless. I see I've no
Constellations to consider, I've no sextant, no chart --
But Sir, I spoke, I spoke louder than the wave
At the crest of the wave; I spoke
My prayer -- I have a white page for your ear.
Sir? -- Is it enough?

A question for the reader; an impossible question, of course, and one that can only be asked so blatantly by a skilled poet. The reader only needs turn back to moments like the description of whale-skin:

Microscopic layer
A finger's strength removes, that
			     dried, that 
					set-to-dry
On the leaf of a book I use as bookmark
Transparent: I
			put you on a word
			and the word darkens-out
Through thinnest skin
The ink (I'm thinking) grows.

A word beneath whale-skin grows
Larger a word. A word more seen.

to discover that while a text may never be “enough,” its lenses expand; make the world and the word “more seen,” and perhaps even “shed light on this self” in the process.

Spell by Dan Beachy-Quick
ahsahta press
ISBN 0916272788
108 pages