Luke Beesley. Aqua Spinach. Artarmon, NSW: Giramondo, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-925336-95-5
We live in our own bubbles but Luke Beesley’s engagement with the world reminds us we are part of an interconnected whole. Although different in subject matter (and without obvious constraints such as musical form or accumulative repetition), his latest collection reminded me of Ron Silliman’s work, Ketjak (1974). I thought back to ‘how the heel rises and ankle bends to carry the body from one stair to the next. A tenor sax is a toy.’ (4) Both these poets deploy the continuity and discontinuity of small lively pictures to create a memorable whole. I am intrigued by such acutely aware writing and enjoy musing on questions such as: ‘How then can the sense and the truth or the truth and the sense of sentences collapse together. As map could expand beyond the margin.’ (Silliman 2007, 101)
During an interstate flight to visit my family, Beesley’s book falls open at a piece titled: ‘Circling’. Though I can’t agree with its statement, ‘We’re on a bus!’, it immediately has me glancing about in case I find an old phone at the windowsill of my thought. The writer suggests this will happen in seven minutes – ‘the pocket receiver, a long list of expectations.’ This poem’s wide windows are ‘frameless’ and yes, they surprise, especially when a ‘finicky B’ is trapped inside, ‘running writing looping round the bright pollen-coloured modern seating.’ Outside ‘the crane crumbles along the sky like a dropped-out line.’ Life is writing itself. The narrator is possibly jotting poetry into his phone as he rides, busy as the insect. Since packing my bag the previous night, I’d been anticipating. I was looking forward to novel conversations with children grown and changed. Now the poem alerts to priorities: ‘What’s the time, you might ask, and I begin all over again. Beauty! Balance.’ Beesley’s concluding line strikes me as pertinent: ‘How early can we contrive a whole day?’ (4)
The filmmaker Rohmer is mentioned in this book. Using a documentary style amongst bridges and cafes restored after World War Two, his creations stem from a time when artists began to show disjointed social and economic realities. This was an era when the eyes of Parisians still met in shop window reflections, prior to the distraction of digital devices. Beesley’s poems also construct with blur and nuance. They continue to surprise at each rereading. Occasionally his syntax brushes against us, the way a fragrance on the street might heighten attention.
In ‘Trumpet’, the reader is asked to picture ‘a lettuce. Fresh as the ski lifts with the hill and powders her nose.’ (5). First I pictured mechanical ski lifts. Then by considering the word ‘lifts’ as a verb, it was easy to visualise a single ski attached to a foot scooping up and lifting a snowy lettuce even higher than the hill that raised it. Simultaneously, powder snow loops through the air onto the nose. With just fifteen lines on the topic of writing, this composition offers a myriad of subjective experiences. Lips pursed forward in ‘embouchure’, the O shape is playfully juxtaposed with plosive ‘pollen, pom and pollen, pomp!’ Whereas tone can narrow communication down to a single meaning, written words leave open a variety of curious doors that invite readers to move through time and explore in and out of an ingenious subconscious.
Beesley offers intimate experience in the following poem. At a moment of indigestion we are privy to the narrator’s physical sensations and introspection. It shows how anyone’s mind roams to make connections and this in a sensitive practitioner’s hands can amount to art.
I was sitting by the seaside absolutely, and ordering lemon water, and
the memory of coddled-egg sandwiches was sitting at the theatre café
indigestion mistaken for text message caused me to stay, hesitant of large
moves the fridge, three-seater couch (this when I hesitated that muscle.
Showtune melody, verse, refrain, pulled that muscle). I held my car to the
croissant and the sea crashed in writing the green wave hiccupped messily on
the sun bather or the umbrella opened in a reddy yellow gaudy bullfight.
Sand castles toppled and the subtle moat broke up before the advent of photography.
My friend felt the word ‘croissant’ jarred. She saw a shell shape as a distraction here, but I relished the touch of narrative ambiguity that simultaneously suggested literally a crescent, ‘c’ for curb, possibly a conch shell for deep rumbling sound, and buttery pastry associated with indigestion.
Despite overlapping elements, Beesley divides this collection into three categories, ‘Ink’, ‘Paint’, and ‘Film’. In ‘Paint’, ‘The Opening’ contains the type of psychological assessment a portrait painter might make upon scrutinising his subject. This is a sharp critique in contrast to the atmospheric wash of other daydream works. Such a poem makes the reader sit up to reread all the others.
I principally remember the room – artless and minor yet minimalist
cultural ignorance that sold. High-five priceways ordered fastidiously
from the menu as he walked in the door the sun went out of his face,
as they say. Life in him was an autocratic tumble-dry. In accordance
the heritage trust gave him a social air that betrayed insecurities and
his domestic dislocation: he fell off a mule onto an expressway
and it took an hour to hail someone down and set his injured shoulder.
All they had was a crowbar. He watered the garden. He did extremely
odd jobs (replaced putty in water features with translucent afterbirth).
In contrast to Beesley’s 2006 work, Lemon Shark, Aqua Spinach is fragmented and spare, consciously signalling the author’s vast engagement with artistic and literary traditions and giants. Nevertheless, if your senses are tuned by this gifted poet, it is possible to savour the experience of buses gliding you around amid the everyday surreal.
The final poem in the collection, ‘The Whole Sentence Was a Joke’, offers a vivid moment in an alley. From a tight focus on ‘stones that made the alleyway bluestone or blackboard blue’, Beesley swings up to cut the sky ‘shaped by the apex of a two-story house’s red roof bleached buzzy chalky metaphor.’ Then what reads as an aside tumbles us down again to consider a tiny leaf before zooming out once more to settle upon the detail of traditional paintwork of the North, Hanoi, ‘where every new paint job, house or street, government or private [is] a natural thin aqua’. As if physically within this charged scene, we have enjoyed a sensual feast, and then Beesley draws us in for more – the dials of a camera, the metallic tinted pastels of street art, and the aroma of a delicious herb.
… I removed my camera, felt around the lens and placed my
fingers on its tyre-tread dimples, leaned against graffiti – silvery pink
– and shot the brilliant coriander.
Even as it upturns all with its title, the poem offers ‘Beauty! Balance!’ in textures, geometry, colour, 3D structures, botany, political perspective and even a suggestion of sound in the ‘chalky metaphor’. Luke Beesley’s talent is to highlight everyday phenomena, like capturing your life in photographs. Where the memory and the image meld you hold a feeling of the moment rather than explicit visual details. The mysterious deserves time. Let this poetry dissolve over you and you will come away asking: was that something I dreamt or was I there?
Beesley, Luke. 2006. Lemon Shark. Brisbane and Chiang Mai: soi 3 modern poets.
Silliman, Ron. 2007. The Age of Huts (compleat). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Geraldine Burrowes’ manuscript was shortlisted for The Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award.Her poetry has been shortlisted for The Judith Wright Poetry Prize and Highly Commended in the Venie Holmgren and in the Tom Collins Prizes. Her collection, pick up half under, was published in The Rabbit Poets Series.