Beer o’clock

As I’ve noted previously, in the last stage of my second Poetry Business Writing School I was grouped together with James (Jim) Caruth and Philip Rush, very fine poets both. One of the tasks which Ann and Peter Sansom set us (and the other groups) was to rank five poems and write about why we had put them in that order: ‘North Sea off Carnoustie’ by the late Anne Stevenson; by ‘Small Talk’ by Warsan Shire; ‘Variations for Two Pianos’ by Donald Justice; ‘There are Lime Trees in Leaf in Promenade’ by Tom Raworth; and ‘November Evening’ by Patricia Beer.

Not surprisingly, the three of us had differing views, though we agreed that the Raworth poem, despite having some lovely details, resonated the least with us because of its sprawling, Olsonian form and dated, anti-Vietnam-War message. Over the course of a couple of Zoom sessions and email exchanges, we compromised on the Shire poem as our first choice, since we all admired its defiant spirit and sense of a young British woman taking pride in her Somali heritage. The other three poems hovered somewhere in the middle.

Patricia Beer’s poem grew in my esteem, from initial bewilderment and annoyance at its bold stanza-to-stanza leaps to total admiration. It is an Imagist-ish depiction of autumn; almost the most autumn-y of autumn poems. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the web, but I thought I’d share another of her poems which is: ‘The Conjuror’. From that ‘last sparks of other people’s grief’ onwards, you know you’re reading a poet of genius. That the top hat is ‘made of blossoms’ is itself a trompe l’oeil, and the sentence beginning ‘We sensed’, with those two words teetering beautifully at the end of the second stanza, is perfect. The change then to the second-person address to the departed conjuror is beautifully achieved. It’s a poem which could easily have been over-egged, but manages in its four quirky yet wholly believable quatrains to conjure (yes!) a life out of death; and it’s worth listening to Patricia Beer herself introducing and reading the poem, in her Devonian tones.

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