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Count the Waves

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Sandra Beasley
  • Date Published: June 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-393-33966-6
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 96pp
  • Price: $15.95
  • Review by: Kimberly Ann Priest
Poetry forces its reader to think and think deeply—this is the principle reason I prefer it to other literary forms. Not that other forms fail to inspire deep thought, but that poetry requires its reader to examine, explore, and even research the metaphors and references embedded in the text if said reader wants to harvest the poem for everything its worth. I was so intrigued by Sandra Beasley’s Count the Waves, that I contacted the author herself hoping she would aid me in my exploration, satisfy my questions such as Why is this a “Traveler’s Vade Mecum”? Where is the speaker traveling? How does Elizabeth Barrett Browning influence the work? Am I right to see an inclination toward proverb in the poetry? To my intellectual relief, she answered. . . .

The collection begins with a poem that sends tremors through my veins every time I read it. It is revelatory and revealing, describing the speaker’s surprise at finding herself still entwined with a lover at dawn because, as she asserts, “The sleeping body is selfish / The sleeping body cannot lie” and with two former lovers, her body sought refuge, turned away, “huddled at the bed’s edge” by dawn. But in the poem “Inner Flamingo”:
when sun cracked its eye
over the horizon, we were as
we’d been. And the pink of me
cocked her head, listening.
This poem, per its placement and subject matter, sets the tone for what will be something of a traveler’s memoir—as Sandra Beasley herself said, a collection meant to fall squarely between her “intensely personal” Theories of Falling and her “relatively impersonal” I Was a Jukebox. In keeping with Beasley’s intentions, I felt the book hit this mark. While investing the poetry with poignant moments of self-disclosure, such as the experience described in the book’s first poem, Beasley also consciously leans toward proverb and aphorism because she believes in “poetry’s ability to make truth claims” and that poets are responsible to use their talents to make such claims.

In Count the Waves, these truth claims lead a reader to be more mindful of what they observe as they navigate life, encouraging them to pay closer attention to obscure dichotomies, misinformed judgments, hasty assumptions, and the various reasons why what is seen is not always what is. “There are two ways a world can be edged:” says the speaker in “The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #4983: How Long Ago Was It?”
with selvage, as a weft retreats
into itself, or with a marrying stitch.
“For a year” says another speaker in “The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #5450: In A State of Intoxication”
a black speck has floated on my right eye.
It corresponds to nothing. It is and is.
It reminds me that what I see does not
correspond to what I touch. Not anymore.
In “The Lover’s Field Guide,” a fascinating, specious list of items and their associated purpose, the speaker finally laments:
A man itemizes all the ways he will fail his woman. If only he’d
become a paramedic. If only he baked bread. He clenches his jaw.
There is topaz embedded in his back molars, but he will never
find it.
And finally, in “The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #2239: Cotton is Rising,” a narrator sighs that
On this night, he hovers with a girl in a field of astral spunk.
Because he wants to be touched, he does not touch her.
Because she wants to be caught, she will run.
Each of these “truth claims,” as well as the many others in this collection, are woven into a tapestry of voices and observations that, much like the cover art’s line-upon-line appearance, beg the reader to delve into matters of the heart, and examine the gains, losses, hopes, and hope-deferred trembling, gaping, conflicting beneath the wave-tossed surface of a particular speaker’s deep.

Nevertheless, Count the Waves is not too weighty in its approach—several of these truths are couched in comedic phrases and personas such as those in “The Emperor’s Valentine,” “The Editor of Encyclopedia Britannica Regrets Everything,” “The Psychology Lesson,” and the semi-ridiculous sestina near the end of the book “Let Me Count the Waves.” These poems will both delight readers and prompt them to pay attention as they take “Inventory” of their surroundings and notice that what seems obvious to the eye—those things that are of the surface and superficially understood—are “blind”; they do not confess the whole story. “No one,” for instance,
ever praises the ass of the peacock,
grin of quills that does the heavy lifting,

or how you eat anything from ants
to Styrofoam, from cheese to chicken.
This last speaker confesses that there’s so much more to this story, realities existing beneath the surface, and therefore she is “. . . done with beauty” because “ onlinenly the blinking eye can measure light.” Light and light by both definitions—this book manages to be both light-hearted and illuminating.

So what of my many questions? Did the author graciously answer every one? Yes, she did! And I will simply tell you that The Traveler’s Vade Mecum is a real book—Google it, do your own research, decide for yourself how it influences this collection. And what of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s contribution to Count the Waves? Well, said Sandra Beasley:
If you check out Elizabeth Barrett Browning's personal history, you'll see that she had a dramatic life (at least later, as she was breaking away from her father's household) that fueled what was an intensely specific set of poems for her at the time. But later generations have received, celebrated, and employed those poems as a way of talking about love in their own specific contexts. For me, purposefully mishearing ‘count the ways’ as ‘count the waves’ gave me space to both honor her experience and infuse it with my own. I hope that someday, people might do the same with my work.
I hope so too! Grab a copy of this intimate, inspiring collection, and celebrate the way they inspire you to count the waves and question the origin of their trembling.
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Review Posted on October 01, 2015 Last modified on October 01, 2015
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