UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006 by TOM BECKETT (2)FIONNA DONEY SIMMONDS Reviews
Unprotected Texts: Selected Poems 1978 – 2006 by Tom Beckett
(Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2006)
Wow! What a spin! This book is performance poetry in print -- I felt I had to rush upstairs, tie my hair back in a severe chignon and pull on a black turtleneck and Capri pants a la Hepburn, before sitting down to write about the sizzling poetry the collection contained. A volume that influences, imposes identities, whose use of the page is as of a stage, it exists in dark rooms, wreathed in pungent French cigarette smoke and smelling of cheap wine. How else could you describe the impression left by two square shaped pages of nothing but the line "How do normal people BLANK?" in The Nude Sentience repeated over and over again.
I will confess to being unfamiliar with Beckett’s work. His name I know, but if I had come across any of his work, it had not left any impression on me. What intrigued me to request a review copy of his book (and yes I know, I am a complete sucker for gimmicks) was the publicity stunt bookmark with its EXTRA LARGE condom attached!
To say that this was an interesting collection to review is an understatement. Its playful experimentation challenges boundaries that are placed upon linguistics.
The Domain of Qualification
What can not be possessed
The faculty of reception
Sex and thought are identical – only reversed
As a genre it allowed me to appreciate, more, poetry that does not conform to the particular forms and ideas about poetry that I found myself to be biased towards. Beckett scatters words all over the page in carefully considered mayhem; the challenge for the reader is to make sense of what he is doing, to appreciate his exploring new avenues. The avant-garde continues with more obviously philosophical poems:
but a language
sighs, gasps, grunts
fluids we leaked.
--from "7. Wittgenstein Improvisations"
The collection’s expedition into the crevices that make up Beckett’s brain sometimes make you flounder in an abyss and at other times happily skim along a surface beneath which lurks multiple interpretations for a downfall. I particularly enjoyed a surreal plateau entitled the “Little Book of Zombie Poems”.
--from "Zombie Psycho-physiology"
This little section of poems about zombies tickled my fancy with the multiple approaches Beckett made to this topic. Completely disregarding the horror stigma attached to zombies, Beckett views them from all sides as normal rational “beings” creating an intensely interesting and arresting group of poems within the larger collection. A long interview at the back of Unprotected Texts reveals Beckett to us warts and all. Reading it, you get a sense that the poems truly reflect the man as he is, and this makes the collection all the more intriguing, adding to its air of performance poetry -- rather than explaining any of it!! The book becomes a history of his personal quest for the poetry that best expresses what he wants to say.
Unprotected Texts: Selected Poems 1978 – 2006 is a collection to challenge even the experienced experimental poetry audience. It creates thoughts the reader would never have imagined having. As such, it fulfils an important function in challenging our brains. Buy it -- you may just like it.
Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine Moondance.org, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.