This is the latest collection of poetry by Gary Beck, former New York theatre director and latterly novelist, playwright and poet. Beck has had poems published previously in a number of journals, including Structo. Resonance is billed as a collection that examines the contemporary individual and cultural experience; a work that confronts the reader with pressing and uncomfortable social and political matters.
For the most part, Beck’s poems are written in free verse. The non-metrical, non-rhyming format can obviously work very well, but it does require a special turn of phrase or image to leave a lasting impression.
The book is prefaced by an excerpt from one of Beck’s essays in which he says he is “more concerned with the message rather than the ‘poetic quality of poetry’”. He goes on to say that “if I may have abandoned metaphor and simile, it is not that I despise them, but I must deliver what I believe to be a necessary blunt message”. Poetry without metaphor and simile would be like a lightly grilled ocelot: a very rare beast – but Beck does not abandon them entirely and both metaphor and simile are plentiful here.
Given the wide range of social, political, economic and religious troubles that have affected the world in recent times, the issues that Beck rails against seem, strangely, to hark back to an era in which the Cold War threatened to become a hot war, such as these lines from ‘Children of Deprivation’:
In the world of power,
men stand by the buttons
of weapons of mass destruction,
eager to slay millions,
while we sit in comfort in our homes
newspapered, tv’d, dreamy,
careless of our sentinels, foes.
The poems ‘Radiation Rhapsody’ and ‘Premiers and Presidents’ give off the same vibe of Cold War dread. Does the prospect of nuclear war still resonate with people now? Surely, in the modern world, the bigger bogeyman is the threat of a seemingly random and unpredictable extremist attack? And so it goes on. ‘This is the voice of one man singing’ is the tale of a man who has been through the school of hard knocks and who seems to welcome the possibility of Armageddon that the Cuban Missile Crisis offered. ‘Idi’ is a short poem about (can you guess?) Idi Amin, the Ugandan despot who fled into exile in 1979. Again, it’s hard to see this as relevant to contemporary global politics, unless of course Amin is serving as a metaphor for all despots and dictators.
In a funny moment, ‘Rant’ shows us a polemicist who is distracted from his rage by a pretty girl. ‘Respite’ briefly ditches the free verse and has rhyme, rhythm and meter. It is a poem in which a lonely person finds brief pleasure in watching children play. It’s a nice image and sentiment.
Some prose poetry also features, a good example being ‘Art Calls’, which is about lost possibilities. It contains the line “Years of my lost time, where are you?”, a feeling with which many readers will identify.
Another prose poem, ‘Night Thoughts’, feels less in line with common experience. Within a neighbourhood there are domestic arguments and neighbours gossiping (so far, so good). It then switches to a school next door:
Within that building, I muse, the lives of so many innocents are mutilated. The empty corridors, classrooms, desks that I visualize finally feel to me the way they must feel to the child, who gropes for help in this labyrinth of confusion that is frigid, barren and eternally damning.
One would hope that the schools of New York were not so intimidating. It is an alien image, seemingly echoing the sentiments of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, which was written about school experiences of the 1950s. Towards the end we find the poems ‘Abandoned Youth’, ‘Painful Youth’ and ‘Doomed Youth’. You have to feel sorry for the young people of New York.
As a book of poetry, the pages turn quickly but there are few highlights that stick in the mind or resonate with the reader.
~ Review by Richard Bryant.
Richard Bryant’s desk-jockeying skills pay the bills, but he’d sooner be reading. More of his book reviews can be found at mishnory.wordpress.com
Resonance: A Poetry Collection
by Gary Beck
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Publication Date: 23 February 2016