Book Review: Burning of the Three Fires by Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Burning of the Three Fires
Jeanne Marie Beaumont
BOA Editions
2010. 96 pp.

Jeanne Marie Beaumont’s previous collection (BOA 2004) was called Curious Conduct, and curious this poet and her poetry are, in several senses. First, Beaumont is alert to various and sometimes obscure aspects of the world: arcane information from Wikipedia, art, etymologies, fairy tales told slant, slasher movies, magician’s tricks.

Then, the poems are curious in the older sense: subtly, carefully, and skillfully worked. Several of the poems celebrate art that is so worked. “Fancy That Does Not Do But Is” considers an exhibit of objects that are not only not useful but not entirely viewable. It asserts the value of, and the pleasure of, beautifully wrought but inaccessible objects:

           …an extravagance
                    that has no earthly use
        for us. 


The title of the poem recalls the famous lines from MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica”:

     A poem should not mean
     But be. 


But “Fancy” isn’t Beaumont’s own ars poetica. In her poems the working—the wit, the verbal play, the formal invention, the pleasures of sound, sight, and insight—subserve feeling (longing, anxiety) that may cumulate quietly (“Totem”) or arrive like a slap. From a description of a backyard birdbath:

               …White flower frozen in full-out
     Bloom, liquid-centered like Belgian chocolate
          or a properly baked soufflé.
               Part baptismal font, part

      Giant’s goblet. 


Marvelous. Then the move, so characteristic, and with such a light touch, into pain:

                   Shallow as summer,
                           as neighbors.


That slap—the kind of twist someone can give when she has you in her grasp—as kids we used to call it an “Indian burn” —and Beaumont’s use of short lines and internal rhyme in a poem like “Recollections: Aviary” suggest an affinity with Kay Ryan and May Swenson.

Anaphora, metaphor, prose poetry, collage, puns—

						…a boy-
          man handles his scotch, the burn of its amber
          entrapping what bugs him..,


—allusion, mashup. My current favorite of these mashups—it may change as I reread this book again and again—is “Is Rain My Bearskin?” which conflates Goldilocks with Psycho.

		I’m the blonde in the shower
	water too hot		water too cold


This is one of several retellings of Grimm tales, and at the end of it you may laugh out loud. (Beaumont co-edited an anthology of poetry from the Grimms’ tales.)

Beaumont makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange, especially when she picks up the dull language of everyday and sets it alight, as in “Getting to Know You” and if “If You Wish to Be Removed from this List.” “If You Wish to Be Removed” uses a number of ordinary and even stale phrases to generate panic and sadness. I predict it will go up on bulletin boards and refrigerators. I recommend this book.

Filed under: Arlene Weiner, Book Review, Prose