Saturday, 2 November 2013

Patricia Beer on middle age

My recent trip to the U.K. wasn't for a pleasant reason (a family funeral), but it did give me the chance to browse in my favourite secondhand bookshops. I love the thrill of leafing through poetry collections and often making discoveries.

One such case on this occasion was Patricia Beer's Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1988). Later research on the internet indicated that there was more verse from her after that date, but this book still gives a very decent introduction to her work.

Beer's poetry must have been very unfashionable in the eighties and nineties, and it probably still is in many respects. However, she's capable of lovely turns of phrase, coherent fusing of narrative and ideas, and some stunning endings. I was particularly taken with one piece, titled Middle Age, especially in the context of the motive for my visit. Here are two extracts from the beginning and the ending of the poem:

"Middle age at last declares itself
As the time when could-have-been
Is not wishful thinking any more...

...Everywhere I look it is the same,
The churchyard or the other side of the bed,
The one who is not lying there
Could have been."

The circularity is both satisfying and eye-opening. The reader is left to contemplate "who" "could have been" in their own lives. It's a terrific poem.

Thank you once again, secondhand bookshop.

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