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Eric Beach

The Write Stuff vol. 2

Weeping for Lost Babylon
by Eric Beach

Published by Angus & Robertson, in association with Paper Bark Press, Sydney, 1996.
$16.95; ISBN 0 207 18625 1

This is an edited version of the speech by poet Tim Thorne when launching Eric Beach's book, Weeping for Lost Babylon, on 4 May 1996.

The venue for the launch of Weeping for Lost Babylon was Betty Nicholson's garden in Hobart Tasmania on Sunday 28 April 1996 - the Sunday after the Port Arthur massacre.


'The title section of Weeping for Lost Babylon is preceded by a quotation from Robert Bridges, which reads in part:

None remain but a few ghosts
Of timorous heart, to linger on
Weeping for lost Babylon.

'Eric Beach is not of "timorous heart", but he does weep. His weeping is a terrible and a beautiful thing. In this section, where he grieves the loss of his son through suicide, and other elegies in the book, for his friends and fellow poets Robert Harris and Scott Weston, he gives us, the survivors (and we are all, at this time, on this island, in a very real sense survivors) a form and a substance for all our grieving.

'At various times in the past 25 years I have thought I could grasp the range of Eric Beach's poetry, that I would, while still being delighted at it, not be unduly surprised by where it came from in terms of form, content or stance, but whenever I felt that I had it pinned it would leap out at an unexpected angle. His work has an enormous variety, and this collection demonstrates that, while nonetheless exhibiting a consistent poetic voice.

'Even when I thought that I could describe it, it was never in terms of any of the styles of schools that other poets belong to. Dorothy Hewett's comment on the back cover sums Eric up perfectly: 'He is a true original in a tragi-comic world.'

'To do the variety and the quality of this book justice I would have to take you through the poems one by one, pointing out the large and small excellences, the wit: 'When my drinks looked lonely / I ordered a double' (From 'unaware of your indifference') and the compassion, a compassion which is never in danger of being condescending because it grows organically out of a natural fellow-feeling.

'Eric 'want(s) to be normal', he tells us, making us question the meaning of that word. Through these poems he appears both as 'normal', in his family background, his experiences, the commonality, the common humanity of his world, and as extraordinary in his ability to transform those experiences, that world, into poetry which makes readers not only share them but reflect on the significance of their own lives. In this way his poetry exemplifies the personal becoming the universal.

'He also deals with public themes.

a map of australia which closes with the lines:

'the particular has its land rights in th universal lie
that poked in a barbed wire flag & claimed to hang th sky',

a tale of 2 dragons, and his other poems which operate in this area are informed by the same wit and wry compassion. But it is those difficult places between the personal and the public that he mines most tellingly - relationships with family, acquaintances, people he has worked with in the varied multitude of community groups with which he has been writer-in-residence.

'This is Eric Beach's first major book in nearly 20 years and although its appearance is a cause for celebration. it does not stand out as some kind of stark contrast to a preceding silence, because for him the practice of poetry is so much more than getting words onto the printed page. Being a poet has meant involvement in the community through residences, it has meant performing and collaborating with musicians, with other writers and artists in other disciplines. It has also meant discovering, nurturing and generously promoting other poets. For Eric being a poet is being fully and creatively human, and he does it magnificently.'

© 1996 Tim Thorne.



From the book's back cover:

Quirky, outrageous, heartbreaking. On and off the page, Eric Beach dances. He is a true original in a tragi-comic world.' Dorothy Hewett.

Eric Beach is one of Australia's most unusual and accessible poets. His work has been performed all over the country, a the Pram Factory and the Opera House, on trams and ferries, sung in jazz festivals, and writ large on billboards in railway stations.

Gutsy, funny and moving, this new collection of eighty-six poems offers us a unique perspective on life. Centring around the title poem, it moves from lyrical lament to sensual celebration and beyond.

'A book which will, in time, become part of our common culture. Deeply responsive to particulars of place, people and time, Beach's poetry yet reaches far beyond this and speaks to women and men everywhere.' Barrett Reid.

'Utterly from the heart, almost too honest (though never mawkish), 'weeping for lost babylon', Eric Beach's ten-part elegy for his son... shows how, when it comes to bedrock emotions, nothing in the arts approaches poetry.' Alan Wearne.

From the preface:

Eric Beach is a well-known poet, playwright and community writer. Of his origins he says, 'I didn't come to Australia, I just left New Zealand.' He is about to be naturalised in Tasmania.

He has published three previous collections of poetry:
Saint Kilda Meets Hugo Ball (Gargoyles Press), In Occupied Territory (The Saturday Centre) and A Photo of Some People in a Football Stadium (Overland). He performs frequently at workshops, readings and public events around the country. Despite his success with audiences, Eric Beach has been included in every anthology published by major literary magazines in Australia.


© Eric Beach

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Update, October 2000: More poetry by Eric Beach on this site (click here)

Poems : 6 poems by Eric Beach published here on the Write Stuff / Back to poetry reviews main page

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Archived content (vol.1, 1995 to Vol.7, 2002-2004) Featured poets: Eric Beach (vol.2 2000); Anne Kellas (vol.2 2000); Stephen Oliver (vol.5 2002) Lionel Abrahams (vol.6 2005).

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