Memory is one of the poet’s strongest tools. By recapturing the past, the poet in effect stops time, seizing a moment, then plumbing its depths on the strength of his or her prosody – the diction, imagery, metaphor and rhyme that traditionally have imparted kinetic energy to the poem.
By looking back – with an open heart – the poet can simultaneously look ahead – for an instant – taming time’s passage.
Time forms one of the major motifs in Roy Beckemeyer’s debut collection of poems, “Music I Once Could Dance To.” Beckemeyer, a Wichitan and retired aeronautical engineer, meditates on his past with the mature perspective of a pilgrim journeying across the Earth.
His remembrances of his classmates learning (more or less) the Baltimore Catechism prove poignant and profound.
“Man is a creature composed of body and soul,
and made to the image and likeness of God.”
“This likeness is chiefly in the soul.”
Using a strong visual sense, astute storytelling techniques and attunement to the rhythms of the natural world, Beckemeyer creates a remembered music he can dance to, a music that leads to quiet epiphanies and delights for the reader.
Particularly effective are his intimations of the shaping power of nature on the self, the first stirrings of desire.
What stands out in these rich, resonant poems is the care of craft. With a crisp lexicon and vibrant images, Beckemeyer resists the temptation to overwrite or indulge in nostalgia. He remains judicious in his subject matter and precise in his perceptions, as in “Night Music,” a young man’s ode to trains:
In her introduction to this volume, former Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg notes how “All of his poems … help us hear where we are, who’s been here before us, and how every step we take lands us on sounds and silences from a multitude of others.”
The poems also help us see the prairie in all its understated splendor.
At his best, Beckemeyer rises to aesthetic heights that reflect the rich heritage of the Plains, taking much of his inspiration from Kansas’ foremost poet, William Stafford.
Returning to his home town, he remarks that
By the book’s end, Beckemeyer’s poems reach a crescendo: He finds a sacramental quality in the ordinary wonders of the world.
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to seize the moment. After all, it just might hold a music you can dance to.