Reviewed by Jon Sookocheff
Michael deBeyer’s second book of poetry, Change in a Razor-backed Season (Gaspereau Press 2005), is a sustained and contemplative look at the moment between knowing and not knowing. “The book is open to doubt,” says deBeyer, “and I felt that if I could write through doubt there would be poetic possibilities beyond.” The result is a taught, muscular second collection well worth an amble through.
The opening sequence of the book uses water as a focal point. The limestone of the city, overheard arguments, and a beached whale are imbued with the qualities of water: muffled by silence, enveloped by shadow and light, awarded rebirth. Strongest of this first sequence is “Coastal Marquee.” In essence a political poem, “Coastal Marquee” describes an oceanfront property, what it might be like for those who live in and on such a prime piece of real estate:
They are building a causeway that they will also flood.
They build an amphitheatre on the soft lap of the beach
that succumbs beneath the tin ice floes. The hawing
and yawning resounds. Houses that line the cliff face
are perilous: lunch box designs of the currently sleeping.
Such are the poems throughout this collection: DeBeyer has an ear for the natural order of things and for what is natural. Throughout he insists that what is going on in the cities is not necessarily what should be going on. For him, such developments are transitory, filled with doubt and un-knowing.
The second sequence of poems develops the idea that there exists a moment between perception and trust and what follows is often failure. The focus is on fallen buildings, ghost towns and the coming of autumn. Idea-wise, this is where deBeyer comes into his own. From “Home, the West Wall”:
Constructing walls to break them, to inhale
the sedimentary plaster cuff, tearing the lath
which seems the final means of support, yet
through the west scaffold: an apple tree in bloom.
In the third sequence of poems, deBeyer loses his hold somewhat. He stops observing and begins commenting, commanding even. The effect on the reader is jarring and not exactly welcome. To take just one example, from the poem “To Draw Blood From Stone”:
To make life, put together
all-love, and swing
near the hurt of the earth.
To make bloodstone, follow.
The entire sequence is in a similar vein, calling on the reader to physically participate in a manner which is not physical. This book is not a manual on how to meditate; had the other poems in the book been similar, it may have worked. Here, it does not.
The fourth and final sequence of the collection witnesses a return to form. DeBeyer comes full circle to considerations of environment and season, making complete the development of the ideas and images created earlier on. Especially striking is the oddness of the final image in the colour-washed poem “Epiphany”:
Though no music filters through
late evening in the parking lot,
and though the orange-dipped sun
descends above the darkening
dairy bar, in a warm and urban-beautiful
summer way, the waitress in the brown sedan
rubs the vinyl seat against her legs,
leans her forehead to the steering wheel
and cries. The world turns
the colour of mint.
This is a sad, playful poem that highlights to where deBeyer is moving: acceptance of both knowing and not-knowing. There is something of dreams in this final section, a hopefulness toward which we might all move.
Change in a Razor-backed Season is an enjoyable collection of poems from a poet who is clearly coming into his own. Read it and look forward to deBeyer’s next outing.
Jon Sookocheff is a traveler and writer based in Saskatoon.