Hook and Eye (2014)

Hook & Eye cover

 

Hook and Eye is to be published shortly (July/August 2014) by George Braziller Inc, New York.

This book features in Braziller’s new Australian Poets series. Because the poems in this book are selected from some of the other books, no sample poems are included on this page. However, the Preface written by Series Editor, poet and academic Paul Kane is reproduced below.  

 

 

[ Paul Kane’s Preface to Hook and Eye

Judith Beveridge once remarked in an interview that she was not at all interested in writing about herself. That attitude of self effacement—rare in contemporary poetry—opens up the world of the poet rather than the poet herself, offering the reader a breathtaking capaciousness instead of the breathless claustrophobia of an irritable reaching after fact and reason. Beveridge, in other words, invents where others vent.

At the same time, she is not, of course, absent from these poems, and there arc certainly instances where the autobiographical impulse fourishes, often with wit and humor as well as pathos. But the tension between the suasions of the personal and the autonomous power of the impersonal—between what is drawn directly from one’s life and what is drawn imaginatively from life directly—creates a dynamic or a dialectic that produces a dual wonderment: the poems are both freshly empirical and deeply felt:

It’s the way he stands
nearly naked in the winter sun
turning on and off the railway
station tap. I have seen people
look less reverent tuning Mozart.

(“Man Washing on a Railway Platform Outside Delhi”)

There is an achieved intimacy of tone and address in her poems that is thoroughly characteristic but in no way “confessional” : we are not asked, as if behind a dark wooden screen, to listen to and shrive the poet, but rather to attend to the worldly—and otherworldly— stories, incidents and flarings that this poet concocts out of the
material with which the world has stocked her mind. And so inward is she with this simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar territory, and so adept at rendering it in a language that invites us to partake of it, that we experience it as an empathetic rapport, both with others and, crucially, with us.

Beveridge’s poems restore the fabric of the world—rent as it so often seems—by bringing the fictive and the real together, joining them as if with hook and eye that we may try on a new perspective, clothing our imagination with her vivifying vision. Each poem has a hook that catches us, with en eye to unveiling the familiar:

                    When the herons quietly step they make

even the stilts’ and avocets’ neat stabs along the sand
seem like slapstick; they make the routines of all who frsh
along the shore at dusk seem over-weighted and vaudevillian.
And look! how they stand—at last—stilled to perfection.

(“Herons at Dusk”)

As the poem comes to its own “stilled perfection,” we are left with a sense of the wonder and intricacy of the life around us, and a desire to see more of it.

A sriking feature of Beveridge’s poetry is the distinctive manner in which it is firmly and confidently placed before us, without resort to defensive irony or sophistical élan. This can only be the result of a severe self-doubt, a trembling—if you will—before the demands of language when it serves poetry and not merely the poet. There is a Russian term, obyvatel, meaning “inhabitant” or, by extension, “simple householder,” which is sometimes used to denote a person so focused on ordinary day-to-day existence that he or she cannot be distracted or fooled by the superficial and delusive clamor that preoccupies most of us in our lives. Beveridge is like that careful craftsman so devoted to the work at hand that the result transcends craft—and perhaps even art—dwelling in a separate realm of accomplishment, whereby both the craft and ihe craftsman are perfected. That aim seems the unstated ambition of Beveridge’s work: to attain to a perfection of form and feeling in order to make something new and durable in the world. It is world-making that quietly remakes the world. Such a poetic process must surely affect the poet as well, and I think we get a glimpse of this in the poems that engage with Buddhism, or—more precisely—with the personal history of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

In the long sequence, excerpted here, “Between the Palace and the Bodhi Tree,” we see Beveridge entering into the consciousness of the young prince, Siddhartha, who has left his wife, Yasodhara, and their son behind, to search the world for wisdom. As he is not yet enlightened, Beveridge can imagine the Buddha’s life from a
humanistic standpoint.

Yasodhara, if you came
to me now, I’d say I saw death

in the lattice of sunshades,
death in a sky of soft cottons,

even in the healing gauze of mist
upon the water and the rushes.

(“One Sight”)

As with classic drama, we follow the unfolding events with foreknowledge of where they are heading, and this adds poignancy to the poems, and puzzlement: how is it possible to awaken beyond suffering? The second sequence, from Devadatta’s Poems, is taken from a forthcoming book about one of Siddhartha’s cousins, Devadatta, who joins and disrupts the Buddha’s circle of monks. Here, the voice is tormented and conficted by the all too human passions of jealousy and hatred. By thus emphasizing the personal history of the Buddha, Beveridge steers us to an understanding of the fundamental ground of the sacred: the world as we know it. Her poems are not directly about Buddhism, but seem instead to derive from a heartfelt encounter with its central tenets. The poems present not a religious sensibility but a spiritual one, an affirmation—a congruence, perhaps—discovered more than forged:

At dusk I listened to the rain gentle the surface
of the river. Little by little it put my mind right.
Finally, my thoughts came as airily as insects skimming
over a pond; a peace came over me that had the equanimity
of snow. Suddenly, I knew I could move on.

(“At Rajkote, After the Rains Retreat”)

One other sequence should be mentioned: that of “Driftgrounds: Three Fishermen.” Here Beveridge imagines the lives of three men working on a trawler. It is a tour de force of verisimilitude, not unlike Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, which Civil War veterans mistakenly took to be an eye-witness account. By not writing about herself, and by writing about something she does not know firsthand, Beveridge breaks the normal rules of composition and, in putting on a mask, reveals something deeper and truer about who she is, a poet, a maker or makar in the old Scots sense:

Sometimes I catch myself shaking
my head the way he did—just working
it slowly—like a sieve at the water’s edge.

(“Delancey”)

The sieve both captures water and lets it stream out. It is the perfect image for how Beveridge’s poems proceed: the flow of life is held long enough for us to regard it as experience but is not arrested or closed off. It does not stagnate. We may call it poetry in motion, perhaps, but it would be redundant. Poetry such as Beveridge’s is always moving.