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.'
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.'
'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
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