Beam Jeffery. “Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements”, Clive Hicks-Jenkins, artist, Kin Press, 2019.
A Very Special Book
There is an unwritten rule somewhere that reviewers are not to have favorites and I am a supreme breaker of that rule. I have my favorites but I do not usually say who they are even though some of my readers will say that it is obvious. Speaking of poetry, Jeffery Beam holds a special place in my heart and I make no secrets about loving his poetry. However it has been quite a few years since I had something new by him to read. Even better than that is a CD that comes with Beam’s new collection which is intense and knocked me over. I had almost forgotten how much I love the language we speak and write with.
”Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements” is, quite simply, glorious and it could not have arrived at a better time. I have always been the kind of a guy who turns to poetry when things are not so good (that does not mean that I don’t read poetry when times are good). Not only are these poems special, they come with wonderful illustrations thanks to Welsh painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Beam and Hicks-Jenkins take us on a wonderful journey— a hero’s journey that goes through “death, resurrection, psychological and spiritual trials, and revelations into redemptive vision.” The places where we stop form a microcosm of our own society. We begin with the death of the painter’s father, we have two narrations going on at the same time—the poetic narrative and the visual narrative and these come together in myth and dreams. There is something feral about the poems which is probably the result of confronting with dark forces and bringing back knowledge that had fallen away over time. To know is to heat and to heal is to look within oneself remembering that pain is there to remind us that something is not right. Pain, be it mental or physical comes to guide us to where it can be alleviated.
“The dead have died a thousand times
for they have died in me
I climb the signal tower each time I bend my knee…”
This collection has twenty-one full color illustrations, sixteen poems, and illuminating essays by Sarah Parvin, Mary-Ann Constantine, and Claire Pickard. From what we read we are able to get a vision of hope. William Rossetti reminds us that we will not be waylaid by those who came before us. We must look to our alienation and face it head on if we are to heal. We can renew ourselves and our world. We see that in the poetry and its illustrations here and we are reminded that the early drawings on the walls of caves was communication back then and it is the lack of communication that forces us into isolation. I could feel a sense of renewal as I read.
We are also reminded that art began in the caves of the Paleolithic world and in those caves ritual, religion, painting and song were born. By its very nature this is a provocative book and we need to remember that the purpose of literature was to provoke. Ever since I read ‘Frankenstein:, Mary Shelley has provoked me to understand that we all read differently. I found a sense of rebirth with this book and the way it sees modern suffering.” Of course it helps that Beam is a wordsmith and writes beautifully and that Hinks-Jenkins draws from his inner being. I always find poetry difficult to review because it appeals to the emotions and it forms a bond between writer and reader. What I see is just that; my perception of the magical verses that Beam writes and the stunning artwork of Hicks-Jenkins becomes mine and I am not sure that I want to share what came to me from what I read and experienced here. I totally fell in love with “The Big Bang: River Jordan” and was amazed at the research done to try to find out what this poem is all about. I lived on a kibbutz in Israel in the Jordan Valley and I thought my knowledge of the area was good if not perfect. I was surprised to see how much I did not before.
“I am the Bastard Angel and the Virgin Devil
I am Again and Then and Was and Ever”.
In closing, let me just say that I am overwhelmed as often happens when reading something new. Here I read of old ideas clad in semi-modern or modern finery and they are very different now but then so are we. I urge you to read and savor what is here. Think of this book like wine— it gets better as it ages.