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Patricia Beer's Autumn

by Jough Dempsey
8 December 1998

Patricia Beer's collection Autumn is an embarrassing, solipsistic mess. Like driving by a car wreck, we look at her work with morbid curiosity, but we don't stop to offer assistance, either. Most of the poems in this collection are spoken with faux-wisdom that is likely intended to show the author's 'depth.' Unfortunately, with lines like "Introducing two recently heartbroken friends to each other / How we hope they will mate, how we know that they will not." in the eponymous piece, not only can we see the bottom of this shallow pool, but there are bits of small pebbles protruding through the surface of this thin sheer of poetic language.

Her use of the word "chrysanthemums" in a poem must be applauded, but the trite imagery of television westerns and bridge overpasses often collapse under their over- stressed, weak supports. It's difficult to pin down exactly where Beer goes wrong because she never actually says anything. She uses odd words like "Ruritanian" in "Street Scene", often rhymes well, but never reaches the epic hills she strives for.

If her simple themes were carried by simple language, the poems may have been charming. Beer so overloads her language that it doesn't merely draw attention to itself, but repels interest in the poem like two like-poled magnets. In "Private Wing in July" for example, the language of the final stanza "Of picnics and al fresco sin, / Summer is icumen in." obfuscates the meaning of the words. Beer continually sabotages her own mediocre thoughts with mediocre metaphors and too-clever language. Perhaps the word "Ruritanian" is the perfect description of Beer's poetry. Ruritanian means 'relating to, or having the characteristics of a mythical place of high, typically comic-opera romance.' It's to Beer's discredit that her poetry isn't funny or romantic, either.

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