Daily Archives: 3 July 2012

Death’s Directives to Bruce Beaver

Bruce Beaver, Death’s Directives (Prism Books 1978)

I love Bruce Beaver’s poetry, though I usually feel that I don’t really get it, and I hadn’t read this book, so I was delighted to find it on Sappho’s second-hand poetry shelves when I went in search of slim volumes to pack for Turkey. I read most of it on our overnight cruise from Kas, feeling just a bit self conscious about reading poetry, let alone poetry with such a grim title, in those hedonistic circumstances. But I’ve done odder things (embarrassingly, this morning I caught myself noting the typos in a menu in Turkish, a language I don’t know at all), and my life doesn’t seem to be any worse for it.

There are 20 poems in the book, ranging from 40 lines to about four time that long. In all of them the poet has some kind of dialogue with death. Death may be a personification of his sense of his own mortality, or of mortality in general, or something less easily defined, like an acceptance of things as they are. There is painful introspection, exploration of the poet’s less than admirable past, reflections on his experiences with sex and religion, meditations on art and ethics, one splendid love poem, three elegies of sorts (for Mao Zse Dong and the poets Neftali Reyes and Anne Sexton). As I’d expected, I was carried along and sometimes carried away by the way he imbues conversational language with a particular, personal music, and am aware that my enjoyment would be greater if I was better read. I’ve never heard of Neftali Reyes, and have read about two poems by Anne Sexton. I got a lot of pleasure from some references like the echo of Yeats’s ‘This is no country for old men. /The young in one another’s arms’ etc in the first poem’s

In another month it will be on
again, the girls will stop hugging their cold
tits, and the boys denim flies
will be bulging, the little kids
here and everywhere else
on the continent will be rolling
around in clover grass and on
the warming asphalt. Dogs, cats
and birds will go madder than usual
about their courting. Everything
and everyone will come alive

and I know there was much more to be had.

The youngest woman in our group asked on the boat to read some of the book. I recommended X and XI, about his mother and the love of his life respectively. She read them slowly, thoughtfully, exclaimed over the way her education had put her off poetry by wringing every drop of meaning out of it, read a phrase or two out loud. I don’t know if her life was any richer for her encounter with Bruce, but mine was. By my own encounter too. I’ll quote you two bits from XI. First a chatty abstraction:

And the best times together come back at moments
that catch me up in the embrace of a rare
music that at the time of making we must have
overlooked and failed to overhear
because of the noise of our hearts and our spontaneous cries.

And then the end of the poem, that gives an example of what he may have meant:

There was a tree, there was a road,
there was a woman with me. And for once
there was forever in an instant
so that I picked a fallen leaf from out
the scruffy grass, a skeletal leaf
and she said, how beautiful,
and made even death appear to smile.

My trip to Turkey 7: Konya

The Kas–Konya leg of our travels was an 11 hour haul. Three and a half hours in a dolmus took us to the Antalya bus station, a vast space where it cost half a Turkish lira for a bottle of water and a whole Turkish lira for a piss. We ate, and attended to other bodily needs. The Art Student, who was under the weather, ate carefully. Then we hopped on a proper bus for close to six hours, stopping a couple of times, one of them at a town famous for its roasted chickpeas. These are said to be good for an upset stomach, so I bought a small packet. The Art Student turned up her nose at them, and when I had a nibble I turned mine up too. Once we reached Konya – the first Selçuk Turk capital and the home of Celalleddin Rumi Mevlana (in Turkey Mevlana, in the West Rumi) – it was just a quick 20 minute ride in another dolmus and we were being greeted with glasses of Turkish fizzy drink at the Mevlana Hotel. (I’m typing this on the next leg of the journey: about 20 minutes on our way, one of us realised she had left her purse back at the hotel; we turned back, but for some reason couldn’t get through; in response to a phone call a man from the hotel brought the purse to us on his bicycle. This isn’t just good service, it’s a whole ethos of hospitality.)

On our first evening, we squeezed in a visit to a felt shop before dinner. Despite my impatient stomach, I was fascinated as the Argentinian owner of the shop demonstrated her techniques. Her Turkish husband had learned the craft from his grandfather, who had learned from his father, and back for generations. The craft had been close to dying out, but they are staging a revival, partly by introducing modern designs. All the same, the most interesting part of the show was the demonstration of how to make the hats worn by dervishes. Characteristically, there was no pressure to buy, though some of us did buy a hanging or a silk and wool scarf.

The fabulous Burak explained at dinner that there are two sides to Konya, the conservative side where women have to cover their shoulders and knees, and the other side. He called them the Allah side and the yalla side, a witticism he sadly had to explain to his ignorant charges (yalla in Arabic means lets go!). We had the option of exploring the yalla side after dinner, and I believe some did, especially as it was the night of the Euro Cup final – though I wouldn’t want to assert that the Allah side of town is indifferent to football. The Art Student and I took her queasy digestive system back to the hotel where we watched some Turkish TV, and an episode or two of things from home on the iPad, including Clarke and Daweon possible solutions to Australia’s asylum seekers stalemate.

Next morning, we visited the Mevlana Museum, which as far as I understand it is the original building where Rumi established the Mevlevi dervish sect. Maybe twenty tiny rooms, perhaps once cells if the Sufis, held objects connected to the sect’s history, but the main attraction was the building itself, which contains the tomb of Rumi and a number of other leaders of the sect. We had visited a Sufi museum in Istanbul and attended a whirling ceremony in Bursa, so we had some background. The tomb is gorgeous, but the room where they whirled is sublime, with a high decorated dome that could bear being looked at for hours. Most impressive of all, though, was the crowd: school holidays are just beginning, and we were there just as the museum opened, but the press of respectfully attentive people – old and young, traditionally dressed and scarved just for the occasion, an all-women coachload, a group of teenage boys and family groups, Turks, Arabs and us – was wondrous, all the more so when the bulk of the objects on display and most of the wall decorations consisted of calligraphy in Arabic, which I’m guessing most of the people there don’t read easily. Among the tiny and enormous illuminated Qurans in the final room, there were a number of poetry books from the seventeenth century, with delicate representational illustrations.

Then we just had time for lunch and we were on our way again. As I type this we are about to stop at a caravanserai – evidently there used to be one every 40 kilometers, because that’s how far a camel can travel in a day. I’ll post again after our adventures in Kapadokya, the land of well-bred horses and fairy chimneys.