Consider the materials from which an arrow can be made: wood, aluminum, carbon, fiberglass. Each material used to construct an arrow ultimately serves the arrow’s intended purpose. Now think of poems as arrows, gathered into a quiver for safe-harboring until their use. These poem-arrows rest, unused until the poet or reader takes one, places the poem-arrow’s nock against a figurative bow’s string, draws back, and takes aim. Dan Beachy-Quick’s collection Arrows is a quiver of differently constructed arrows, waiting for readers to choose which poem-arrow works best for them, their cause, their purpose, their existence. In this case, the choosing, and the firing is, fortunately, nonviolent, and instead of resulting in death, unnecessary maiming, or harmful penetration, the firing results in spiritual and intellectual rejuvenation, a quiet celebration of the self and a humble acknowledgement of existence’s perpetual confusion. In these quietly restless poems, readers find balanced oscillations between sparsity and fulfillment, the mythological and the real, the spiritual and the secular.
Wooden arrows, though original, are prone to warping when fired from traditional bows. In the case of Beachy-Quick’s Arrows, the “wooden” poem-arrows are poems such as “Pneuma,” “Theseus’s Ship,” and “Primer.” In these poems, warping is not troublesome or problematic; in fact, it becomes necessity. Warping of senses, selfhood, ideology, mythology, and history entangles and ensnares readers. Warping of form, vocabulary, and syntax challenges readers to bend their minds, yet each warp is precisely calculated to help readers avoid a distracting deflection. The collection opens with “Primer,” a poem in which subsections buckle and gnarl, arch and deform in terms of typology. Consuming white space, non-traditional indentation, spacing, unembellished word choice, and subject matter draw the reader’s attention to poetic fragments, which, like wooden arrows, might seem simple because of their single-material composition. However, though the subsections of “Primer” seem simplistic in form as well as vocabulary, readers must not accept this poem at face value. “Primer” opens with a section titled “preface,” which establishes authority with the opening command, “this book is a learning mist.” After an explanation of what “this book” is—“in which the hand/ discovers/ the thistle it grips”—the poem grants the reader permission to continue by asserting that “some texts are forms/ of trespass’s expectations—.” “Primer” moves forward with subsections titled “astronomy” and “anatomy,” and after existential portrayals of both inner and outer existences, the poem, in the final subsection titled “epistemology,” warps into quiet resolve: “let harm work quietly against itself/ until violence is a place for rest.” With these lines, readers will notice that Beachy-Quick’s poems invert the arrow’s nature as a weapon and transfigure it into an object that finds respite in peace, setting the collection’s repentant, humbled tone.
Next, consider aluminum arrows. Aluminum arrows aren’t necessarily lighter than wooden arrows, but they are stiffer. Archers refer to an arrow’s stiffness as “arrow spine.” Arrow spine is a complex concept: this is how an arrow reacts when pressure is applied to the arrow. Lighter arrows are designed for lighter bows, and vice versa; otherwise, deflection occurs. Aluminum arrows have the most consistent straightness and weight tolerances. In the case of Beachy-Quick’s poems, “Some Consequences of the Made Thing” and “Eidos” are aluminum poem-arrows, fueled by metaphor and enjambed lines, packing discreet strength. With its italicized repetition of the phrase “The End,” “Some Consequences of the Made Thing” maintains straightness not only in its completely left-aligned form, but also in its straightforwardness discussing confusing matters of mortality. The poem proposes that even when humans reach a minute level of self-awareness, multiple levels of unexplored self-awareness continue dominating and overshadowing the explored levels: “Of saying I in a poem that realizes at the end/ That I am just a distance from myself./ And so are you. That same distance.” The repetition of “I” engrosses readers in its Sinner’s Prayer-like invocation and humility, and drives an internal exploration of the tolerances that individuals develop, acknowledge, and shift through. In this way the poem advocates that, often times, humans must return to understanding the basics before understanding intricacies within selves, societies, and cultures. More importantly, readers will find that such poems abut thematically to provide continuity even though the aforementioned themes shape and reshape throughout the collection.
Similarly, “Eidos” is weighted not only by the imaginative, but also by anemoia: “I used to eat clouds/ When in the motherless air I felt this desire/ for thought and the old.” The poem relies on predominantly sky-themed imagery and word choices to convey the narrator’s wistfulness. Words like “appetite” and “portion” combine with phrases like “gains weight” to balance lighter words like “blue” and “open” and “sky,” thus creating forms and images that affirm the poem’s title but challenge the reader to, in the manner of pre-Socratic philosophers, ask if the appearance of, the nature of, a thing really is.
Like the pre-Socratic philosophies that influence many of the poems in this collection, Beachy-Quicks’s poems draw into the conversation the nature of substance. Carbon, the substance that forms the basis of life and also the fifteenth most abundant element on earth, is used to manufacture thinner, lighter, straighter, and stronger arrows, more durable than wood or aluminum. In other words, carbon arrows do not exude brawn, yet they are stronger and truer than their wood and aluminum counterparts, much like the poem-arrows “Psalm” and “Efforts of Translation” in Beachy-Quick’s quiver. Readers will likely pause and consider the opening line of “Psalm:” “I keep deer in my heart.” This line waxes reminiscent of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt.” However, “Psalm” straightforwardly forces readers to acknowledge, by force of the simple repetition of “I keep” in the first and third lines, the spiritual possession nature has of the narrator: “I keep deer in my heart/ forgive the ancient fold/ I keep the woods there too.” The repetition acts as a binding, a wrap which then appears in phrases like “forgive the ancient fold” and “away from prayer keep not/ thing blank in its highest.” The statements act not only as simple commands, but also as pieces of advice one might heed in times of sorrow, grief, or doubt. The poem’s last five lines then develop an awestruck timbre, specifically because of the line “o altar that wanders.” Spirituality, and its many confusing dispositions, are a common theme in Beachy-Quick’s poems, and “Psalm” perfectly captures that confusion in its final lines: “praise deer drink water out/ their hooves cloven print.” The lack of indentation provides a foundation, a backing, a faith that moves the reader onward with the hope of finding resolution.
“Efforts of Translation” opens with Pompeii-like chaos: “What burns becomes ash become dust becomes/ clouds that gather together the sea, so the clocks/ Carry hours, and later on the bells rain down.” Again, a sense of returning to original composites prevails, particularly in the word “ash” and its fusion with the concept of time. This blunt acknowledgement is once again affirmed towards the poem’s end: “To yourselves stay blind/ Is the latest prayer. Soon enough it will grow old./ ‘Know thyself’ in the rubble heap/ outside the ruins.” For the biological cycle to render itself complete, the inevitable fate must happen, and the cycle, unfortunately, is inescapable. Like “Psalm,” however, the poem’s form provides a sense of resolution amidst chaos, and lines such as “What I want to hide from you/ Hides inside you” make the resolution concrete. Readers will find that this poem, like others in the collection, relies on repetition of a cyclical nature: the words “ash,” “hair,” “milk,” “dark” and “god” blend with an address to “You” to form a dirge of rumination.
Other arrows in Beachy-Quick’s quiver are constructed from fiberglass. Fiberglass is a reinforced plastic composed of woven material embedded with glass fibers, which lay randomly across one another and are made firm by a binding resin. Fiberglass arrows are the strongest of all. The strongest of all poem-arrows in Beachy-Quick’s collection is “Song of the—.” The poem’s opening phrase, “Vague self,” foreshadows doubt, humility. Doubt and humility then swirl into a sudden, shocking causa mortis made even more keen because of the first stanzas lack of punctuation. However, other materials layer this poem: the poem begins with the left-alignment of its first stanza’s line. As the poem creeps deeper and deeper into contemplations of time, creation, and the many overlaps of existence, lines 8, 11, 15, 21, and 24 shift right, at first subtly, then drastically, giving readers the sense of an uncontrollable, fleeting forward motion, affirming that life, just like a swiftly traveling arrow bound for its target, “Moves you to another place mostly the same/ As where you were before a minor elsewhere.”
Readers can apply the construction of a fiberglass arrow to Arrows in its entirety. The beauty of the collection is its sleekness, its superficial simplicity of form, and its linguistic and philosophical durability on which readers can rely from the first page to the last. Separating the collection into its composites, from the most obvious to the most microscopic, reveals and requests analysis of the collection’s metaphorical fletching, inserts, nocks, and arrow tip. This collection requires attentive reading, not only because of its allusions to Greek mythology and history, its Zen-like cycles that transport readers into meditative states, but also because of its camouflaged, complex syntaxes. Lines act not only as single, independent thoughts but also initiate thoughts from a subsequent line, or explain a previous line. Thus, like an arrow’s many carefully crafted parts that unite to create a multipurpose object that relies on another object in order to reach its full potential, the poems in this collection work collaboratively to balance and spin the collection forward. At the end, the reader emerges clear-eyed and awakened, affirmed, engaged. The individual poems in Beachy-Quick’s Arrows are like the woven material, fibers, and binding resin that bind together to form a fiberglass arrow’s efficiency and strength. Philosophies, allusions, and prayer-like introspective self-reflections are then added as nocks, fletching, and tips, providing evidence, allowing the collection to oscillate forward to its intended mark, which is, in this case, a reader who sits quietly—no screens, no distractions—searching for answers and finding peace in this enticing, modernly metaphysical work.
Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist who teaches at Bridgewater College and serves as co-director for the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, Appalachian Heritage, North of Oxford, and many other online and print journals. Nicole holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University, is the recipient of a July 2020 Writing Residency at Gullkistan, Creative Center for the Arts in Iceland, and is a Tupelo Press June 2020 30 for 30 featured poet. Her poetry collection Triskaidekaphobia is forthcoming from the UK press Black Spring Eye Group in 2022.