“It’s very difficult to say peace is an ideal unless you go on to define an ideal as something you can’t possibly have, but can’t possibly help wanting to have. That’d be another way to look at an ideal. And both cases can’t possibly mind you, can’t possibly have, but can’t possibly help wanting to have.” One of this year’s “Fulcrum Features” is a set of 16 essays on “Samuel Beckett as Poet,” so you might think this excerpt is related to Beckett or to one of his contemporaries, in sensibility, if not style. But you’d be wrong! It’s from another Fulcrum Feature altogether, “Robert Frost: Three Unpublished Talks.”
And if you think this is an incongruous offering in the same volume, Beckett and Frost, you’d be wrong again. They work together wonderfully in Fulcrum, an overwhelming and splendid 700+ page annual that defies categorization, offers readers texts and perspectives they won’t find elsewhere (focusing on Beckett’s poetic works; unpublished lectures Frost presented at Dartmouth), gives poets the space to debate big ideas (John Kinsella and Rosanna Warren the politics of place and the place of politics), and presents the work of nearly 100 poets, in addition to its “Features.” This issue, the Beckett and Frost features are joined, as well, by “Poetry & Myth,” 11 essays interspersed with many marvelous new poems with mythical themes and concerns.
The sheer size and reach of this tome would mean little, of course, if the work weren’t equally grand and unexpected. The range of modes, styles, tones, voices, and subjects in the poetry is impressive, but what they have in common, however distinct they are in other ways, is a kind of confidence. There are no tentative, wispy, sentimental pieces here. This work is solid, serious, grounded – from Joe Green’s unadorned, plainspoken work, “I beat up the Gamashay twins. / It was back in 61.” (from “The Iliad of Joe Green”) to the more lyrical and mystical excerpts from the long poem “An Aif Baa” by Pierre Joris, “preamble to an alphabet // letter arose / says Abu al-Abbas Ahmed al-Bhuni / letters arose / from the light of the pen / inscribed on the Grand Destiny / on the Sacred Table”), to the playful, but by no means frivolous verse of Larissa Shmailo (“I want to know / what makes you / tick…which ion propels you / which soothsayer spells you / which folksinger trills you / which hardwood distills you). The integration of essays and poetry treating mythical themes is cleverly orchestrated. A brief essay by Geraldine Monk, “Guilty Myths,” is followed by two of her poems, an appealing presentation.
I would be remiss if I did not find the space here, too, to mention, at least briefly, the art, which includes photographs of New York by Matt Weber, “glass images” by Katherine Jackson, drawings of Samuel Beckett by Avigdor Arirkha, and photographs related to his poems by John Kinsella. This is consistently strong and engaging work, in particular, Weber’s surprising images of New York. (I didn’t know it was still possible to find anything surprising in New York!)
You’ll only have to skip your tall-decaf-extra-shot-latté for a few days to be able to afford the issue ($17.00), and it will give you a jolt of pleasure and inspiration far greater than any drink you’ll find at Starbucks. I think it will take me most of the year to get through Number Six, but I am already anticipating Number Seven.