Friday, July 25, 2008

Wordplay welcomes Jeffery Beam

(Click for a larger version)
Hillsborough poet Jeffery Beam was in town last weekend for Loco Logodaedalist, the celebration of Jonathan Williams' work hosted Saturday night by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, so I talked him into coming into the micro-studio at WPVM to talk about his work. He read a few poems from his Visions of Dame Kind (Jargon, 1995), a book whose approach to the natural world I've long admired, but we spent much of the program reading and discussing poems from his new (as in brand new) The Beautiful Tendons, Uncollected Queer Poems 1969-2007 (White Crane Books, 2008). It's a fine, emotionally searching and honest, collection of love poems - when we're in the kingdom of love, it doesn't matter whom we see as the other, the same rules pertain, and this book limns them with a forthright grace.

Several of Jeffery's poems have found musical settings, so we discussed the relation of music and poem, and Jeffery, in honor of his lifetime love of the old songs he grew up singing in Kannapolis (he feels they still inform his work), closed the show with a remarkable rendition of the old Methodist hymn "In the Garden".

If you don't yet know his work, here are three poems from Beautiful Tendons that he read on the show, just to give you a glimpse:


This is my lesson in humility.
My lesson in grief.
My lesson in the cruelty of the human heart, my own.
Trudging through deep southern snow:
finding both of your faces frozen in the white.
Sparrows still singing in the shrubbery.

I could not say it then.
I cannot say it now.
My heart split in two.
A tree limb weighted by ice.
A white quiet and protective.
A white dangerously warm.
My hands spiritless in the drifts.

Why do birds continue to sing?


not silent,
but noisy and indiscreet,
rowdy and persistent.
He comes in leaf fall.
musty earth in his palms.

Held out to me
I can do nothing but take it,
and take it gladly,
earth being the one coolness
other than water
to be enjoyed.

The fact of the matter is this:
tomorrow he may come silent.
Tomorrow may be love quiet as mist,
but today,
his cheeks rough with new hairs,
I smell furrows of new fields.
I turn over fertile soil.
I hear burrowing insects, happy worms.

I taste the gentle, crude, excavating damp.
The stain of love upon the earth!
Stain of love!
His sleep rattling me.
His sunrise and breath awakening me.


That body tree on a misty hill
That face fawn with dark eyes
That full moon surrounded by evening skies
That hour pavement ending in dust
That grass green with summer's black-green
That night coming over us with its breath
That sound crickets singing at eye level
That body me on the ground with their song
That body another touching me with fire
That fire round as the moon burning as the sun
That face fawn with dark eyes
That you speaking in tongues unknown and green
That sound crickets singing in my ear
That body tree on a misty hill

There were many more, so give the show a listen. Ordinarily, it'd be available just through this Sunday at WPVM's web site (just scroll down to Wordplay) as on-demand stream and download - but this weekend Asheville hosts Bele Chere, its big annual street festival, and the station's in the festival zone, so I'll let Jeffery's session play again. It'll be on the station's Archive page through Sunday, August 3rd.

The show opened with McCoy Tyner playing "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" from the 2007 release McCoy Tyner Quartet. We also heard three of Billy Holiday's classic performances, "Easy to Love," "Life Begins When You're in Love," and "Summertime," all from Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles. Keith Jarrett's "Paint My heart Red," from the 2006 The Carnegie Hall Concert: Selections for Radio, took the show out.

25 July, 2008: Updated to note that the show with Jeffery will air until August 3rd, thanks to Bele Chere.

The photo of Jeffery is by M. J. Sharp.

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