Bashō has been on my mind quite a bit recently. This is partly because I'm about to do some traveling over the next two weeks, and Narrow Road to the Interior is one of my favorite travelogues, but also because I've been remembering how much I admire how spare haiku can be, saying so much by saying so little.
The poems I most enjoy by Nicky Beer are on the other end of my pleasure spectrum, however. There's a time and place for the spare and bare, then there's a time to make one's art fulgent, to dig both thumbs into the fruit of language and the sensate and let all that juice catch light. Beer is clearly a lover of the English tongue, and she wields it to display every “ornament and affliction” the world has to offer. Her poems can take some unraveling, but in the best way: they ask the reader to sit rapt and take notice. I'm so glad to learn about this poet, and I hope you are as well.
The poem below was previously published in TriQuarterly.
FROST ON THE OCTOPUS
The blue-ringed octopus is one of the most
poisonous animals in the world.
She is as at the fair both circus tent
and sideshow freak within, each blue-ringed spot
an ornament and affliction intent
on advertising, in the polyglot
speech of nature, her peculiar venom
which seizes the victim first in a rush
of wonderment, freezing his limbs in some
sudden winter, all the while a weird thrush
mottles his tongue with rime, so that his first
words of love should be perfectly preserved
for this tattooed girl, this contortionist
adrift in the lonely excess of her
power, so rife with death throughout she will
at times, upon her own breath, taste its chill.
Nicky Beer is the author of The Diminishing House (Carnegie Mellon, 2010), winner of the 2010 Colorado Book Award for Poetry, and The Octopus Game (forthcoming 2015). Her awards include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a scholarship and a fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, a Campbell Corner Prize, and a Discovery/The Nation Award. She is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver.