strange house

strange housebook cover

Poetry Review by Louise Waller

New Works on Paper

by Luke Beesley
Giramondo Poets 2013
ISBN: 9781922146403


This is the third published collection from Luke Beesley who is a poet, artist and musician. The collection comprises three sections - The Word (Otways), Pencilled Losses (Northcote, Jan-May) and Frames.

In his Author's Notes (on a loose sheet of publicity blurb from the publisher) Beesley details the process and origin of the poems, as well as setting the context for their placement within the three sections. These notes are interesting and operate almost as a 'gateway' to enjoyment of the poems. The collection does contain an acknowledgements and notes section in the end pages and I think it is a shame that room wasn't made for the more detailed Author's Notes. Poetry can always benefit from closer reading (especially by the 'common reader' who most poets could aspire to attract) and poems do not always have to stand alone or only ever speak for themselves. 

Having an author declare his desire - "I wanted to lean further into surrealism but to also take more from my daily life.  I'm interested in this place between surrealism and realism; between poetry and drawing and song; between histories of recent American and Australian free verse; between short fiction and prose poetry." - can be a win/win when most books of poetry are not reviewed, most poets are not interviewed and so many readers are not keeping up with, or are intimidated by what exactly contemporary poetry is and how they could approach, for themselves, that strange house.

          bees are like charcoal
          only a hint of yellow to them
          I have been staring at the fire like it was a television
          eventually everything is

          (House p.3)

Many of the poems are difficult to quote from, the momentum carrying the poetry beyond line breaks and ordered images; they traverse a wider spectrum, combining a diversity of images with the possibilities for meanings being equal measures of wit, clarity and whimsy.

Consider these first four and a bit lines from What A Pencil Can Do - "Is nothing a word is unable.  To undo a twisted knot, holding a fridge/to the truck, I begin drawing.  I draw for two hours.  You might/understand from elementary maths - or the wild oddity of a softball/in the hand compared to a tennis ball - that patterns are solved/by our bodies."

Approaching new writing with his pencil on paper, Beesley becomes less interested in forced and overworked forms.  His poetic seems to be tasking a different challenge, allowing sensuality to infiltrate in and around the words, allowing sufficient space for a reader to get busy thinking and evolving tangents and intersections for themselves.  The links or lack of links between the lines in many poems open an intellectual vista that rewards differently in first or multiple readings of poems.  Beesley's technique in layering the many patterns and shapes of thoughts, into lines and words on paper is impressive. A less determined poet might find it easier to allow them to disappear for want of a more laboured construct in which to site them.

Beesley again, from his Author's Notes; "The sensual shape and sound of words, and the imagery they create as I'm trying to get a focus on them in the middle of quick writing, is where I draw my associations.  This tangle of imagery and sounds to the left of where the pencil moves, gives to the words just to the right of it.  Certainly I hope for an aesthetic meaning to have entered the poems in this process,..."

          It would be called rust somewhere in a novel.  Or in a poem sunlight
          caught in it.  Thin hair of her pale stomach, upper thigh.  It is thinking
          he desires in his hands with a pencil, water crackers.  A tinge in creek
          water below dragon-flies and leaves, knocked by light.  Hears the deep
                                                                            bone of her hips crack.


          (A Description p.23)


     Yesterday and Day-length

          Thursday - daylight in it
          Unusually large day and the stories of hearsay and lunacy
                    on the sea.

          Through history crime happened on a Thursday, as did
          ecstasy.  Take a whale.  Lay it on a picnic blanket.

          (Sea Things 26 Poems p.42)


I was stuck by the intravenous surge that many poems provided. The way certain poetry makes other poets who read it tingle. The poet has established a well developed 'aloneness' even when poems detail interaction with others, there exists a remnant of a solitary 'longing for' that permeates the collection and rather than being awkward or off putting, it charms the reader.  The solo process is on show, that process of a poet speaking to the page, speaking then to the reader and when successful, inviting an intimate relationship regardless of the sometimes difficult lines and means of interpretation. Beesley's poetry is not poetry that rewards with immediate and recognisable images neatly playing out in any expected fashion.  There is a deliberate surge into destabilisation, a mixing up of expected trajectory. If he had handled these experiments less honestly, or had he overplayed the 'strangeness' by indulgence, the resulting poetry would lack the charm to entice the reader to persevere.  These are not perfect poems, not imperfect either, but there is a sense that they are honest poems with authentic purpose and reward.

I get the feeling that Luke Beesley keeps track of all sorts of lines and words. It would be very difficult to work in the surrealism/realism technique with only rapid writing to drive the project forward. He puts his poetic talent to good use referencing his influences and paying attention to what other poets are willing to allow, as play, or technique in their own poetry. If I have any quibbles, perhaps only that the first section featuring (for this reader) the almost perfect poems of his experiment, was not longer. He has made a very fine collection, not always sure footed, but dancing in any case.