Luke Beesley, Jam Sticky Vision. Artamon, NSW: Giramondo, 2015. ISBN 978-1-922146-84-7
R. D. Wood
Required Reading for Derivative Managers
Luke Beesley’s Jam Sticky Vision is a work where one can find solace and solidarity, challenge and entertainment. This is not solace in the mindless mindfulness sense, but solace in the sense of balm, of solitude, of vision. That vision is at once informed by a network of metropolitan works (Ashbery, O’Hara, Tagore, Stein, Matisse, Joyce) and popular culture (film and music principally), which might tempt the critic to misdiagnose the work as modernist, or even po-mo. There is nature too, albeit not Romantic. How then to categorise the work? I do not want to propose a designation here, but to read Beesley’s work in the aegis of this journal and think through it ecologically. In that way there are interruptions by sky (“A Thousand Characters”), by animal (“Snail Clogged in the Clay”), by plant (“Broken Onset Circles”), by mineral (“Op Shop”), by water (“The Master”). There are also a few dogs and birds thrown into the wordplayful mix. But it is not poetry to categorise easily as any particular thing, for it intersects with a variety of contemporary interests. It is then, of course, of our time.
Consider “Tamarisk / Astor”:
If not for the ocean then for circumstance or time
And if not for time, and time’s circulation
then up-drafts that keep a hawk
nourished or dissipated irritation
necessary in a lengthy
acquaintance or drive
If – for his serious beginning, shade unbroken,
walking out past the markers along the cliff edge,
the ‘nature’ walk, then – we concede
something has happened to beauty …
Jules Olitski spraying canvases
Olives far too salty in the dream of adolescence
School with a love-bite on the neck
– blood summoned and confused as tricked pets
If not for every accident
then the assumptions, coincidence, fortunes
coins grow weak in old wallets or in the
depths of a car seat as things quieten beyond
One notes the litany of techniques – anaphora (“if not for”); image (“updrafts that keep a hawk”, “love-bite”); sweet rhyme (canvases / adolescence; neck / pets). One relates to it too – in my real life coins are indeed lost in the “depths of a car seat”. But one also notes the messages: money is “weak”; nature has been inverted comma-ed; there is the portent of “things quieten beyond”; the reference to New York abstraction (Olitski and the submerged Gerald Murnane of the title); the Proustian recall of school. From abstraction, from this poem itself, we must concede “something has happened to beauty”, something has happened to nature and this poem sees that, witnesses it by its wry and knowing form and comfortable style.
I only want to draw attention to one other poem in the collection, though there are a great many that warrant reading. It is the second section of “How Will I Know When I’m Home?”, the poem reads:
There was no leaving the house. The house was there. It wasn’t immobile, wholly, but an address beyond pencils and creamy duck-feathered coloured paper. The letter box clasp always swung open in the wind and we lived there and found our mail sometimes on the lawn, or snail-bitten. I couldn’t leave, this day, but dug my way out of the carpet enough to pack a lunch in a silver tiffin and think of the largess of the egg or the eye of the hen on the shiny blunt end of a 2B pencil. When it was typed up I decided to go checking the train times. I was, of course, unlucky and had to kill a good twenty ducks using an old table cloth. It was a turquoise business but the time looks you directly and I was eventually at the five-to-twelve, walking alongside me, and I hopped in. I had left the whole house there frowning by the street in grey daysky inclination. I read the essay at the beginning of the New American Poetry to try to orient myself to the second half of my thirties. I won’t call it late but I will the train to skip stations and I did it for enjoyment and the editor also said this. But I didn’t believe a word. I just felt the great book in my right hand like my house unread all afternoon if not for robbery or repairs. Our shed, which was only a paragraph or so, long ago, was tidied into a whole dissertation. He even had to remove a piece of grass, ingeniously, I didn’t know where to learn. Feathers everywhere. Embarrassing! We shared a coffee when it was over and he had two sons and seemed to know everything with a sly curl of the shifting spanner. We went back years. I was twenty eight. I had breathed between two shoulder blades and falled into scrub, destroying my chin off a bicycle. We waited for ages at Flinders Station. I hid the cover of the book hard against my left pocket. We turned the page and I went out of the train and up escalators which were tracksuit-top zippers and seemed fine across the tramway pedestrian bikeway, arriving.
Like when you move a home, one you have lived in all your life, to another continent there are a lot of boxes to unpack here. Density is our friend though. Allusion is our friend. Rather than point out the wordplay, the shifting sensibility, the references, as I did for “Tamarisk / Astor’, I want to point toward what Ben Etherington noted in his article “Marlon James and the Challenge of the Creole Narrator”– namely, sometimes a prize bestows aura on a novel, conversely sometimes the novel is necessary to keep the prestige of the prize going. In this case, criticism, my criticism, cannot do justice to the poem. Criticism is not up to the task of text. This is simply because I want the text to be.
So, I would recommend simply re-reading the poem and sitting with it. I don’t want to instrumentalise poetry here – Beesley’s work is a beautiful, powerful, wonderful thing in and of itself. But if one is trained to think through poetry, to slow down, to apprehend “difficulty” in form and style, to read this particular poem, then maybe one can learn to approach the world with a better sense of its complexity, interconnectedness, wholeness, circularity than when we are simply taught didactically and in a straightforward manner. Poetry, this type of poetry, this poem, then is a harbinger of light, a moment of life on a dying blue planet. And for that, we must praise Beesley and the world in which he lives and writes.
R. D. Wood is the author of two books, most recently loam-words (Electio Editions, 2016). He is on the faculty of The School of Life and lives in Melbourne.