Saturday, May 9, 2009

Poetry Review: "The canals. The liquor coming through," Joshua Beckman

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Joshua Beckman’s untitled poem beginning with the line, “The canals. The liquor coming through,” is an intense little piece. Over the course of its twelve lines, it renders two scenarios. The first is the aerial bombing of a bridge and canals, presumably in a time of war. The second is of an alcohol-fueled argument among friends. Beckman doesn’t describe these situations in much more detail than is included here; the lines are made up of sentence fragments, with the last one containing the only complete sentence. However, his use of repetition focuses the reader’s attention ever more acutely on the two sets of circumstances, and the juxtaposition of the two scenes draws a parallel between them--the bombing ends in devastation, and the implication is that the argument does, too. The repetitions of “The dead” in the final three lines suggests that it is applicable to both scenarios. And what at first seems the most incongruous of the fragments, “The wood in piles along the bank,” turns into the most chilling. It’s an apparent metonymy for the murder of one of the friends; the reader gathers the body is buried under the pile. This context makes the closing complete sentence, “A little anger grows inside them,” particularly disquieting. It echoes through one’s recollection of the rest of the poem--the “little anger” is the seed of violence both large and small. It’s the starting point for war’s devastation, as well as a rash, unplanned murder borne of momentary discord. This may seem a banal little insight, but Beckman makes it new through a canny understanding of construction and effect.

The untitled poem beginning with "The canals. The liquor coming through," by Joshua Beckman, was originally published in issue 8 (Fall 2006) of bird dog. It is included in The Best American Poetry 2008 anthology, and in Beckman's book collection Shake.

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