Arrows, by Dan Beachy-Quick. North Adams, Massachusetts: Tupelo Press, July 2020. 88 pages. $19.50, paper.
At its core, poetry seeks to examine the relationship between things, and although there are many ways in which poets achieve this, no one quite does it as thoughtfully as Dan Beachy-Quick. The author of six previous poetry collections, Beachy-Quick’s newest book Arrows explores love, faith, philosophy, the constraints and usefulness of language, and the nature of what it means to make meaning of our surroundings and the world at large.
Arrows begins with a sequence of brief but lyrical poems whose titles state the topic that will be examined. However, Beachy-Quick always leaves room for interpretation, and in poems like “anatomy,” so much can be said while still allowing for further exploration:
an ache called a school
a palsy called a pulse
a bone for curriculum
and for tutor a ghost
Our bodies (“bone”) serve as a curriculum to understanding both ourselves and our surroundings, and the pain (“ache”) we endure in our lives is but an experience we must continually graduate from (“school”). But to what extent does death (“a ghost”) help us master lessons (“tutor”) with no easy answer? The ghosts we carry can both haunt us and provide reassurance that no matter the circumstance, our memories (either of someone or something) will always be there to guide us toward a greater truth.
If the first section of Arrows is the intro and verse, the second section is undoubtedly the chorus, and there is nothing as melodious and thought-provoking as the longer, semi-narrative poems found here. In “Theseus’s Ship,” Beachy-Quick takes the famous thought experiment and explores what the nature of an object truly is and whether it can weather the effects of change and time:
The thirty-oared galley in which he sailed
Youth to safety they preserved through time.
They took away a timber from time to
Time put it in a pile
They replaced it with a new plank.
Centuries passed and the boat grew younger.
In a thousand years it became new.
Clever or bored some youth looked at the pile
Of old timber and fitting board to board
Built the ship again. They stand side by side
On the long grass the wind blows like waves
When it blows it blows like waves the grass.
Poets and philosophers like to argue
About which ship is Theseus’s ship
And which ship is the image or imposter
While the grass rises and swells about their ankles.
Regardless if you believe the ship is new or not because its planks have been replaced, time is swelling around us, and the message, in one of many interpretations, could lean toward the fact that time changes us, for better or worse. Whatever we preserve must be cherished if we truly believe it is worth cherishing. Elsewhere, Beachy-Quick can ease the throttle on the philosophical and become, as critics sometimes like to bestow on some, a poet’s poet. From “Ethos & Eros”:
An ant carries a seed as large as itself back home—.
The rams sleep in the shadows of the brush—.
A sparrow sings to no one who is not alone—.
Still the lovelorn god scatters blind his poppies
Giving sleep if not oblivion. Some speak in dreams;
Other wake in pain from the wound never given.
The scene painted here is quite pastoral, but the implications move into the realm of human happiness and suffering. What may be a “dream” for some is an indirect “wound” for others, especially those that are confronted with the actions of the past and their consequences in the present.
Again, Beachy-Quick switches gears so effortlessly once more, and in “Efforts in Translation,” we see how death is explored in that poet’s poet style:
What burns becomes ash becomes dust becomes
Clouds that gather together the sea, so the clocks
Carry hours, and later on the bells rain down
What in them rings, not time, but something
That rhymes with time, like fire, or ash, or dust.
In the end, we will meet our inevitable fate and become dust, but what matters is what we do until then. Beachy-Quick’s poetry is here to remind us to look at situations, objects, and ourselves more closely. In doing so, the world will begin to make more sense, and it will allow us to come to accept what we don’t easily have answers for. Arrows is an offering, one to be studied and cherished.
Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press, 2019) and the micro-chapbook Soledad (Ghost City Press, 2019). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Shenandoah, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.