This is a collection of 89 poems which Mike Beverage spreads over nine short chapters. A handful of poems on topics such as Writing, Listening, Loving, Looking, The Love of Good Women, and even For and Against Poems.
In Poem for Miss Jones Beveridge recalls the pleasures of poetry from his school days, although not without the dangers of mockery from his classmates:
I was enraptured – but I was alone
My rough and rugged classmates made me see
That speaking out would toss these dogs a bone:
Enthusiasm begged for mockery.
Such soppy stuff, they said, can’t we have more
What use in life is verse, and what a bore
To puzzle at it till the meaning’s caught.
But there were teachers – and there was Miss Jones
She just believed, believed in poetry –
Her certitude evoked many fellows’ groans,
But all she said was manna pure to me.
She’d read a poem out to us, and she’d sigh:
Does that not touch you deeply? She would ask.
Yes, Miss, some wag would call, I’m gonna cry,
But nothing could deter her from her task.
Of all the poems in the collection, I think Beveridge is most successful when talking about lovers, or, more accurately, what feels like a host of ex-lovers. There the emotions are still a little raw and so feel more real. The short poem called Zoe is a great example:
Oh, Zoe. Don’t give me that woman scorned…
You’re female: you set your honeyed trap.
I jump: though I might fear the way is thorned,
Your scent is too much for my rising sap.
It’s bliss: we both say so – it must be true –
But soon enough (that’s life) a choice will loom:
I’ve been the one who’s been left kind of blue;
But this time, I’m the one who needs more room…
At once I am a heartless brute, a cad,
I’ve used you, had my way: you hope that I
Will rot in hell for treating you this way.
Try this, my Zed. Join me in feeling glad
We each got chosen, sent each other high:
I thought you swell, and wished that I could stay.
The back cover alerts us to the main theme of this collection – ‘a return to a time when poems had rhyme and rhythm’ but sadly that is what turns out to be the biggest flaw. The struggle to find a rhyme is the thing that encumbers the selection. Perhaps we should have been warned by the epigraph quote from Philip Larkin, taken from a Paris Review interview:
‘One reason for writing, of course, is that no one’s written what you want to read… Probably my notion of poetry is very simple. Some years ago I agreed to help judge a poetry competition – you know, the kind where they get about 35,000 entries, and you look at the best few thousand. After a bit I said, Where are all the love poems? And nature poems? And they said, Oh, we threw all those away. I expect they were the ones I should have liked.’
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Quentin Wilson Publishing
Another point of view:
Rhyme and Reason in Mike Beveridge’s Poems
On first looking into Beveridge’s Poems for Remembering we are likely to be struck by the simplicity of the lexicon and the accessibility of the themes and meaning it conveys. The poems are immediately comprehensible to the attentive reader at the same time as they reveal surprising perceptions, without a trace of the deliberate obscurantism that disfigures much contemporary verse. The insight of the last line of the very first poem in the collection is a good example:
Like none before, he learned to score A poem deep inside a song, And what he knew of love and hate He made sound true to all who heard. He braved what he could not ignore - Love matters most, but can’t stay long: Be generous, when time seals fate; Goodbye ought be just love’s last word.1
Subsequent readings, however, will confirm the suspicion that the way the words are arranged is anything but casual. In this example, the fact that the lines rhyme at all does not become evident until the fifth echoes the first. This delayed rhyme effect induces a paused, even hesitant perusal. Now compare:
Another hard frost savages the ground, Death-dealing dawn in temperatures so raw That no thing in this landscape gives off sound: All this I feel inside myself, and more. A thin sun sets icicles to grieving; So bleak and lonesome stand the leafless trees; I walk beneath, bitter in believing That hearts once gone to ice ne’er can unfreeze.
Yet one brief twelvemonth back, when you were here, You gave the lie to cold reality: Your silly-clever games, your warm good cheer, The ways you knew to chase the blues from me. There is no cure, there is no antidote: My gloves you were, my hat, my scarf, my coat.2
Ground, raw - sound, more / grieving, trees - believing, unfreeze / here, reality, cheer, from me / antidote, my coat… here, rhyming couplets fall into place naturally in consonance with the theme. The rhyme scheme – ABAB CDCD EFEF GG – and structure of this poem denote a Shakespearian sonnet but, of course, readers do not need to know this to enjoy it and assimilate the full force of the compressed but clearly-articulated meaning. Nor do they need to be aware that the hammer-like repetition of the initial “d” in the second line of the first stanza (death-dealing dawn) is a literary device (alliteration, and there’s plenty more to come: thin sun sets icicles / bleak and lonesome …leafless / beneath, bitter in believing) that helps to drive home the feeling of cold desperation that the octet so convincingly expresses. Or, indeed, that the final sextet is bereft of such alliteration as the persona (the poetic voice, distinct from the author) becomes at once warmer and more confidential. The poet’s craft ensures that all this (and more) is an ‘extra’ for the studious, over and above the pleasure of reading excellent poetry accessible to all. The tricks of the trade are unobtrusively deployed to work their magic – art – on our ear, mind and emotions: not only do they not encumber the poem; they make it possible and therefore constitute its essence. Each word, like the people in Fishing on Mapua Wharf, is
[…] so relaxed, as if it’s being said Each one is right where he or she should be; No, even more; let’s take it now as read: Here is the only place each one could be.3
So these poems will provide a rewarding experience for those who never had a Miss Jones4 or who ignored her lessons, in addition to an extra layer of pleasure for serious poetry lovers and students of literature. Explore them on your own account, dear reader, always keeping in mind that the treasure between these covers will only yield its riches if approached with an open and curious mind. These poems announce the arrival of an authentic new poetic voice steeped in the great tradition, imbued with the reality of the people and landscape of New Zealand and… they rhyme and scan in perfect consonance with their semantic content.
Finally, the back cover of the book announces that “A selection of these poems has been put to music […] and will be available shortly under the title Songs for Remembering”. Having made a brief search on the Internet, I can confirm that these songs have now been released and are available on the usual platforms.
Consequently, to put the notion that rhyme and metre in any way encumber the poems in this volume firmly to rest, I would like to invite you to open YouTube, search for Mike Beveridge and/or Jeff Espinoza; Winter Woe and press play, or simply follow this link: https://youtu.be/stpk3l-dHlg. And crank up the volume!
1 Poems for Remembering page 11
2 Ibid. page 32.
3 Ibid. page 59
4 See Beveridge's Poem for Miss Jones (ibid. page 12).
Reviewer: Jim Williamson
Quentin Wilson Publishing