Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Dan Beachy-Quick: Mulberry and This Nest, Swift Passerine

Mulberry (Tupelo P, 2006) and This Nest, Swift Passerine (Tupelo P, 2009), Dan Beachy-Quick

The silkworm, the larval form of Bombyx mori, feeds on mulberry leaves almost exclusively, transmuting them into the 1000 to 3000 feet of silken thread that forms its cocoon – and which later, boiled, unraveled, cleaned, woven, & dyed, make scarves tunics & Wall Street traders' shirts. In Dan Beachy-Quick's Mulberry, the worm's process becomes a figure for the poet's transmutation of his own reading & his experience from the wild disorderly to the woven texture of the poem. Lordy, you say, another poem about poem-making! Haven't the centuries of makars inflicted the tortuous accounts of their own compositional processes on us long enough?

But Mulberry, like Wordworth's Prelude, is only in part a poem about the formation of the poet's mind – or rather, the formation of the poet's mind, the movement of his restless sensibility as he devours texts & experience, is synechdoche for the formation of the human mind in general. Mulberry exemplifies how the poet takes in the outside – books, nature, the lived life – and transmutes it into intricately woven iridescence; but it also exemplifies the constant interchange of outside & inside & outside again that is the human life, however buried those processes may be.

Beachy-Quick's extraordinary lyricism was evident from his first book, North True South Bright (Alice James Books, 2003); if anything his ear has grown more delicate in Mulberry and This Nest, Swift Passerine. "Passerine" is a bird – the name derives from Latin passer, sparrow – a "perching" bird, a "songbird." Where Mulberry figures the poet as humble caterpillar, munching leaves and metamorphosing them into silk, This Nest – a far bolder, wide-ranging, book – melds the traditional figure of the poet as transient songbird with an eco-centric conception of the poet's task as the building of a variegated and beautiful – not to mention liveable – nest, a nest formed out of the bits & pieces of experience, of previous texts, of philosophies & traditional wisdoms.

I hear a great deal of Ronald Johnson in This Nest; at times, indeed, the book reads like a 21st-century version of Johnson's The Book of the Green Man (1967). Johnson & Beachy-Quick share many points of reference: Thoreau, William & Dorothy Wordsworth, the general milieu of British nature-romanticism. But the ambition of This Nest pushes well beyond the careful naturalism and (sometimes 2nd-hand) nature mysticism of Green Man: Beachy-Quick is out to weave an encompassing tapesterial picture of the sparrow-poet in nature, something more akin to the mind-blowing cosmological stew of Johnson's ARK (which Beachy-Quick indeed cites). This Nest enfolds not merely the naturalism and Naturphilosophie of Thoreau & the Wordsworths, but swatches of Martin Buber, bits of Heidegger, Emerson, Weil, Traherne, usw. All is a kind of beautiful winding-together of fragments, bound & woven with Beachy-Quick's own precise verbal music, to form a lyrical, musical dwelling-place.

Ovid's Echo & Narcissus, the disembodied voice & the self-enraptured observer, play constant counterpoint, a Wordsworth-like questioning of whether our enraptured staring into nature is anything more than a self-obsession. As Wordsworth & Johnson would answer, & as Beachy-Quick assents, we do indeed see ourselves when we look into nature – but we see ourselves precisely as part and parcel of the nature's interlinked processes. Yes, natura naturata, LZ would say (echoing his blessed Spinoza), but natura naturans at the same time.

[116, 117]

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