THE WASTE LAND AND OTHER POEMS
Yes, John Beer’s first book of poetry is so intelligent, so elegant — brazenly, assuredly — absorbing our favorite Dead White Male in title and style throughout this new The Waste Land and Other Poems. Is this an elaborate joke, one might ask—said title, the facsimile cover design (delightfully sans blurbs), the opening three pages of alternating variations between drip and drop? Even that initial caution is appropriate and part homage. Eliot’s The Waste Land had its share of readers thinking it a brilliant hoax. Wallace Stevens wrote in a letter that same year, after the poem went on to win the coveted Dial prize while Harmonium did not: “Whatever else it is, it’s negligible as poetry.” The 20th century demurred: even Mad Tom realized the endnotes originally designed to lengthen the book for publication had become as canonical and intrinsic as any other jot or tittle in the great poem. Impossibly, Beer has assimilated Eliot (and Rilke, the book ends with a sequence Sonnets to Morpheus) and pulled off much more than a graduate student’s uncanny mimicry (TSE, who was himself unrivaled at doing Police in Difference Voices et al). So how does Beer avoid the pitfalls of succeeding in such cleverness? It's his grand humor, his artistry of phrase and line, its staunch music and slippery tone. That is, Beer’s book is really poetry, as ambitious as it is artful. J. Beer 1969–1969, Lives of the Poets and—above all others—Mary, the Color Scientist manifest this poet’s dazzling richness. Eliot’s The Waste Land was right for its time; his personal crisis bled into a crisis of verse, where hodgepodge collage and a Google-like mind of a search engine could “evoke the trouble of modernity” (cf. any freshman’s textbook). Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems is our necessary version 2.0 for our age of YouTube mash-up, cyber piracy and corporate governments occupying the world's countries and headlines as we stroll knowing “THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING AT BORDERS / WE WILL BE CLOSING IN FIFTEEN MINUTES.” Reality may be a wash, but Beer’s imagination—sublime mutt that it is—washes up on the shore of our comfy, empty lives to keep us company. Let’s welcome it and remember how to survive.
Adam Fitzgerald reads "Lives of the Poets" by John Beer:
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