Notes from the past – posts moved from my “Music I Once Could Dance To” WordPress site – from July 24, 2015
by Roy Beckemeyer
I was thrilled to be notified by Lindsey Martin-Bowen that she had reviewed my first poetry book, “Music I Once Could Dance To,” in goodreads. I am including here a link to the original review, and I have also, with her permission, pasted the review here.Thanks, Lindsey. I feel humbled and honored to have had these words penned about my book. Bless you.
Lindsey’s review Jul 23, 2015
5 of 5 stars
Read in July, 2015
Review: Beckemeyer, Roy J. Music I Once Could Dance To.
Lawrence: Coal City Review Press, 2014, paper. ISBN 978-0-9795844-8-0. $10.
Even if Roy J. Beckemeyer spent most of his life as an aeronautical engineer, he has maintained a poet’s soul and uses poet’s tools—a descriptive, honest voice, vivid imagery, and rhythmic sounds—to generate a sense of characters and of place, some of which no longer exist. Nevertheless, his lyrical poems transport the reader not only to areas in the Midwestern landscape but to a less harried time.
For example, in the poem “Owl,” the reader can sense the elegiac longing for an earlier era in the Midwest landscape (and perhaps in our society nationwide). The bird becomes an emblem of a dying way of life:
. . . the universal truth of a broken owl
suddenly shattered by a strand of barbed wire,
gone from magnificent pursuer to wheeling
wreck of hollow bones, his wing flailing, cloud
of down and feathers floating like incense . . . (l. 1-5 ).
Beckemeyer presents the poem containing the book’s title first, in the section he named “invocation,” a request to God (and/or the muses) to lure the reader into a dance of words to ensure that it be guided by the Divine—or at least, supernatural forces beyond our material world. And his poetry creates music with its alliteration and rhythms. Although he continues the music metaphor in the titles of the book’s five sections (invocation, exposition, theme, variations, recapitulation), his engineering background appears when he weaves in scientific terms without destroying the poem’s rhythm. For instance, in the final poem, “We Discuss the Geomorphology of Life,” he notes “It’s called saltation, I said,/when grains of sand are picked up by the wind/and blown along, dislodging other grains. . . .” (l. 1-3).
Beckemeyer has lived in Kansas most of his life but isn’t a native. He spent his early years in Illinois. Those years etched intriguing imagery into his memories, which unfold often in his poetry. In “A Year in Small-Town Illinois: 1953 in Tanka,” his imagery leads the reader through the calendar via tankas (five-line poems in syllabic counts of 5/7/5/7/7 with the last two lines showing a “turn” from the beginning three). He wrote a tanka for each month. Some of them illustrate life in Illinois, such as the February tanka:
skating on Shoal Creek
ice cracks like a rifle shot
and transforms us both
from skaters into swimmers
huddled steaming by the fire (l. 1-5).
Others, such as the March tanka about the 1950s television show, “Sky King,” could occur anywhere in the nation during that era:
Sky King’s niece Penny
in that twin-engine Cessna
twelve year old boys dream about
pony-tailed girls and flying (l. 1-5)
Beckemeyer brings small surprises with the imagery, too. He illustrates the dance theme in unexpected ways, such as when he describes his wife, Pat, in “At Watermark Books Before the Reading.” He studies her as if she were dancing, “. . .your hands held out before you/as if they are dowsing sticks” (l. 4-5). And he notes “You always do that,/your hands dipping and bobbing/to the hidden rush of words” (l. 6-9).
In a similar vein, “Picking-at-Scabs Blues” in the same section not only picks up on bluesy rhythms, it, too, contains a dance description of the blues performer:
his hands would flutter,
open and closed,
open and closed,
catching at air coming
through the harp
and thrumming it there, (l. 26-31).
Indeed, this collection of poems not only shares the landscape with other descriptions in “Tornado Warnings” and “Nebraska Morning,” its dance-themed poems, such as “Initiation Song from the Prairie,” “Centering” and “Falling,” along with those previously mentioned, lead the reader through dancing lessons and create a music that many of us can still dance to today.
– Lindsey Martin-Bowen