The Inside of an Apple
-Book Reviewed by Kendra Bartell–
On first glance, Joshua Beckman’s The Inside of an Apple appears to be a humble undertaking. Published by Wave Books, the aesthetic presents a cream/off-white cover and uses a minimalistic typeface for the book’s title and author. This aesthetic is extended in the ensuing poems, which are usually only a page long, presented in the center of the page, and offer few words per line. The poems are typically untitled, and if they do have a title, the demarcation is an underline in the body of the poem. That being said, the poems themselves are rich in meaning and thought provoking. The book as a whole could be said to be showing us the inside of an apple; that is, the poems are exegeses into the deep insides of the connection between natural world and man.
Beckman’s poems read as if the speaker is taking you with him on his daily excursions into the natural world. Sounds tranquil, but readers will be challenged by the book’s language and structure. Should we view the poems as linked, or as individual moments? The table of contents presents each poem as an individual work, but the form on the page renders it impossible not to imagine a linked meditation on the speaker’s part.
Readers will also wonder about the author’s decision to break the book into sections. It is difficult to sense a different mode or line of questioning between the sections, when the central motif of engaging with nature was the common thread throughout the entire collection. The poems flow into each other, so perhaps the sections are offered as a device to slow readers down, reminding them to take breaths, and digest the material.
Beckman’s visual minimalism has its limits. In many instances the poems and word art in fact become incredibly expansive. While they are focused, generally, on small scenes of nature and the speaker’s observations of phenomena, the scope of the poems is existential. Reflective natures mirror readers’ expressions. They are participants and inhabitants of this earth, and oftentimes deal with questions of agency in experience. For example, one poem reads:
and on one mountain
then the next
the sun shines down
a batch of metal pole clanks
and makes a music sound
in the quiet
air sound sounds
on the lit hill trees
tall before a white cloud mountain
I saw them yesterday
and again today they’re shown to me
This poem, while unassuming in form, opens itself up to the question of what seeing means. Is the speaker the active agent in this moment of seeing? Are we being shown things in the natural world, or are we seeking to see them ourselves?
Beckman’s poems present almost as little koans to be solved by the reader. At times, the lack of punctuation plays against the line, forcing readers to slow down and piece together the logic of what’s being depicted, but that work is fruitful in Beckman’s execution.
Overall, the collection reads as an engaging account of being a person in a world of both natural and man-made things. Sometimes we get snippets of city life, or items we are familiar with as made. Other times we are alone in the forest, looking at the trees. The book is primarily concerned with distinguishing the textural differences between man-made objects and natural templates, which results in a worthwhile and engaging collection. Beckman offers a unique, contemplative viewpoint that allows readers to swiftly step into his shoes and look right there with him. Spending time with each poem rather than rushing through the collection results in a richer reading. That being said, you will have to resist the urge to speed through the collection due to the visual aesthetic. Beckman’s [clappers clapping: offers an ars poetica for the collection as a whole:
Hazy warm presence of us too
being ourselves (each as a been thing)
our bodies devised it and then
made it what it said
The Inside of the Apple is available from Wave Books
Post Photo Courtesy of http://www.gwarlingo.com