My day 14 read for #thesealeychallenge was I Was the Jukebox by Sandra Beasley. This book was a gift from my partner Casey. I had never heard of this author or read anything from her, which was nice because most of the books of poetry that I own are ones that I bought myself because I thought they were something I would enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised by this collection.
Beasley writes often through a character or an entity outside herself. I want to explore this more in my own writing because I am getting boring to myself. A series of poems in this collection feature speakers ranging from sand to world war to an Egyptian god to eggplant and more. Each one is given a distinct voice and Beasley has a wonderful way of injecting humor and whimsey into each speaker’s story while still hitting on themes of loss and loneliness and desire. Beasley uses narrators in poems outside of the ‘speaks’ series as well. In ‘Cast of Thousands,’ she takes on the voice of a film extra. In ‘Love Poem for College,’ she writes addressing a college, with its blackboards and buildings, as if it were an old friend or lover. I really enjoyed how humorous and weird some of these poems were.
I loved the poem ‘My God’ for the way Beasley uses humor to describe the god she is discussing. The poem opens telling us that the god wears jeans and later we learn that the god is teaching his terrier to beg. This was one of many poems that use a repetitive list structure, and I think this works well in this collection. It helps the reader stay within the suspended reality of the poem’s subject or speaker and prevents us from believing that the ‘I’ in question isn’t the author. These poems remind me of coming up with a character for a story. Beasley is giving us unique details and characteristics that make each one fun and surprising.
While I enjoyed the poems that were humorous and fun, there were plenty that had a more sober tone. I loved ‘The Hotel Devotion,’ and three poems, all titled ‘Signs,’ use the storytelling and narrative techniques seen in other poems to address grief and loneliness. These poems were really beautiful; they built up tension poem and held it through to the final line. One of my favorite poems in the collection, ‘Plenty,’ is a satirical poem about a world where everyone has too much of everything — food, wealth, and so on — so the people are begging, “Impoverish us!.” They pray and then too many Jesuses come to them, enough to fill every town. ‘Vocation’ is another favorite and addresses the idea of a job and work and why we do either. Both are darkly humorous and clever and so fitting for our world.
I think folks who are new to reading poetry would enjoy this collection for its strong storytelling. Beasley assigns clear speakers in most of these poems and uses concrete but whimsical descriptions to guide the reader to the meaning and themes within each poem. The poems are fun and accessible to read. There is a uniform structure throughout the collection and some subtle use of poetic devices like rhyme, assonance, and slight rhyme that gives the poems a lyrical quality and rhythm. Beasley uses repetition in many of the poems in this collection which makes them almost spell-like. Overall, this was a great book. Going in I didn’t know what to expect but I am sure that I will return to this collection again.
Favourites and Best Bits:
Cast of Thousands (pg. 24)
Antietam (pg. 27)
Making History (pg. 29)
Love Poem for College (pg. 30)
My God (pg. 31)
Returning to the Land of 1,000 Dances (pg. 33)
The Hotel Devotion (pg. 43)
Signs (pg. 45, 46, 47)
The Piano Speaks (pg. 48)
Another Failed Poem About Music (pg. 52)
Plenty (pg. 68)
Fugue (pg. 78)
Vocation (pg. 79)
Love Poem for Los Angeles (pg. 86)
Antiquity (pg. 88)