February of this year saw the reissue of two of award-winning, North Carolina poet Jeffery Beam’s collections: the aptly-titled Midwinter Fires and the gloriously minimalist MountSeaEden. Originally published in 1990 by French Broad Press, Midwinter Fires is a skillfully-woven tapestry of emotions that fully lives up to the ReBound series’ claim to select:-
“..outstanding out-of-print chapbooks for publication.”
Recently retired after 35 years spent working at The Wilson Library, UNC – latterly and for the most part as assistant to biology librarian, William Burke, where the pair reputedly ran one of the best botany collections in the country – Beam’s keen regard and clear eye for nature is noteably present in the likes of Cow-born Dionysus, Gnosis, and the title poem itself. While his ability to delineate momentary emotions of hope (Yule), doubt (Saturnalia) and disappointment (In my Jacket) through the more mundane details of events can’t fail to strike a chord in even the most seasoned cynic, it is in the poems When I was Taken, The Holly, and Winter Dusk that Beam truly deserves Joseph Donahue’s description of him as:
“..contemporary master of that most difficult of forms, the short, ecstatic cry.”
Midwinter Fires, as the title suggests, is a book to cosy round the hearth beside your loved ones with. Its celebration of life amidst the darkest days of the year cannot fail to reinvigorate the ailing heart. Beam’s other reissue, the stripped-back examination of “..the inner and outer landscapes of earth and water.” that is MountSeaEden, is, admittedly, a bit too stripped-back for this reviewer’s tastes but I can appreciate its appeal as a sequence of snapshots that might fittingly accompany a pleasant stroll in the countryside. However, its publication as a limited edition handset, handmade, bound in quarter cloth with a cover illustration from a painting by Laura Von Rosk would seem to rule this out, rendering it more coffee table art than pocket edition material but, for all that, still a celebration of something great and beautiful within.