Not only does Nicky Beer have exquisite taste in skull print accoutrements, she has an exquisite brain: one in a continual state of inquiry as it roves, probes, mulls over the overlooked with the scrupulous observance of a documentarian. Her poems are the product of this mobile, curious mind as she zooms in on everything from the blue fermata print on a hospital gown to an octopus’s “self-tossed parachute of cream and coral.” In Mark Doty’s explication of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish,” he highlights Bishop’s regard for the experience of observation, maintaining that “her aim is to track the pathways of scrutiny.” The same can be said of Beer’s work in its keen-eyed cinematic journey, especially in her book The Octopus Game where “we cannot bear to have our depths unmonstered.” Though the two poems showcased here move away from cephalopods toward drier land, they are no less intricate and examining.
In “Exclusive Interview,” a partially redacted interview between interlocutor and respondent, Beer underscores the act of erasure, while moving through different tonal registers from the monstrous to the mystical to the humorous; e.g., “You have to remember that in my day, only truckers and ornithologists did that sort of thing.” She constructs an eavesdrop effect in which the reader is only allowed fragments of a conversation. The language-masking provided by redaction creates both a scaffold for the poem as well as an ignition device for the reader’s curiosity, propelling us through the poem while puzzling us as we speculate about what’s kept hidden and why. Her other poem, “Notes on the Village of Liars” is loosely sutured to “Exclusive Interview” through the subjects of theft and subterfuge. Constructed mainly of end-stopped lines that provide a staccato aurality of “notes” to echo the title, this poem keeps shifting and surprising us, while reminding us that reportage, invention, and memory form a blurred frame: one in which we are all simultaneously truthtellers and fabricators.
I hope after reading these poems where “Everyone is the mayor. No one is the executioner,” you’ll be persuaded to search for more of Beer’s exceptional, sure-footed work.