Reading: Brian Beatty

Brian and I got our MFAs together at Bowling Green State University; in fact, we shared an office for a year. When he was cool with my putting a picture of Raymond Carver on our office door, I knew he was a good egg. In addition to writing poetry and fiction, he also makes music and is funny — all things I greatly respect.

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Beatty-CoyotesCoyotes I Couldn’t See (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016)

Feelings while reading: Pulled in. I like the voice in these poems; it’s an older voice — maybe a little tired, a little enigmatic. The voice remembers, but feels not quite ready to forgive itself. I particularly loved the tight, little poems — perfect language choices to easily paint an image, memory, or mood.

Favorite poems: Walking the Dog in Winter, My Wildest Dream, Far Afield, Surviving the 1970s, Horses, Familiar Songs

Favorite lines: “You sighed like an early snow /  in your sleep.” (Familiar Songs)

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Beatty-Brazil, IndianaBrazil, Indiana (Kelsay Books, 2017)

Structure: The book is subtitled “A Folk Poem.” It’s one long poem, though each page’s section feels like a poem in and of itself.

Feelings while reading: I recognized many scenes in the book, having grown up in the Midwest around the same time period. What I liked most about it, though, was the way it read almost like a novel, not in form but in depth of storytelling. I was being introduced to a cast of unusual characters. They are perhaps exaggerations in some cases, and the sense that the city is a place the speaker is glad he’s left is clear (he wonders as a child if the state’s tourism motto “Wander Indiana” meant that no one could actually leave and “Folks from Illinois, Ohio or Kentucky sure / weren’t going to rescue us from ourselves”). However, the speaker is also of the place — the pronouns used are “I” and “we.” I admire what Beatty’s done with this book.

Favorite poems: “A Jar of Fireflies,” “The bat folded its wings neatly,” “Writerly description may not suffice.,” “The farm widow pried,” “Summers, in the eaves,” “Fathers taught their sons,” “A boy down with chickenpox,” “No one talked about the hospital,” “There was a local man,” “The small green apples”

Favorite lines: This one is difficult to choose without repeating a whole poem/section; many of them have damn fine closings that need the context to be most appreciated. I’ll go with this: “We rumbled / around town as if / we had somewhere to be. / We didn’t, of course. / But it still took us forever to get there.” (“At more than a few corners”)

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Beatty-Dust and StarsDust and Stars: Miniatures (Cholla Needles Press, 2018)

Structure: The book is a collection of small, individual poems. It includes a few poems on ‘how things work’ (loyalty, music, iced tea, poetry, etc).

Feelings while reading: A blurb on the back says “Whenever I finish one of Beatty’s poems, I always ask myself, ‘How in the hell does he keep delivering such humanity, poignancy, wisdom, and wit in only a few short lines?’” and this is precisely what I felt as I read.

Favorite poems: Clearlake (A Bardo Poem), Lantern Light, The Devil’s Real, Handmade, Cosmic American Muse, Faith as a Barn, My Good Eye, Shaking Off the River, Black Plastic Pocket Combs, Due North

Favorite lines: Again, I don’t want to ruin anything with spoilers here, so I’ll share this: “Playing folk guitar is all about tradition.  / Keep your mouth shut, please,  / until you’re willing and able / to sing. Then honor this poem in song.” (How to Play Folk Guitar)

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Final Thought: Brian Beatty is my friend. I’d like to introduce you to him, but since making arrangements for all of us to meet at the same place at the same time will be such a hassle, read these books instead. Then he’ll be your friend, too.

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