I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling,
Or just after.
Stevens might well have queried: “Are inflections truly lovely, beautiful? Are innuendoes comely, handsome, astonishing?” He might have held one in each hand, glanced from one to the other, speculating. Inflection: the sermon, the homily, the assurance confidently exclaimed: the damnation or the redemption propounded persuasively by pastor, by priest, as opposed to the inherently innate rectitude of quiet faith no more than whispered, or at most, lip-synced to that bountiful, beautiful, almost silently voiced innuendo that a better place awaits.
So, if Innuendo, let’s ask: Is “just after” preferable? That suddenly flat-line oscilloscope trace of dead sound, of whistle past all hope of code-blue rekindling, absent any chance of echoing, of recapitulation, of resurrection? Or perhaps “just before,”: the silent, pregnant throat as blackbird lifts its ebony head, voice-box catgut-taut with the anticipation of maestro, diva, tenor, of carbon-soot-charcoal bird?
The “just before,” the moment of “whistling,” the “just after,”—the blackbird shape suddenly indeterminate amongst shadowed leaves and branches, the optical illusion flipping in and out of view, from prescience to being to retrospection. Uncle Wallace might have suggested seeing a Conundrum of Camouflage: analogy, metaphor—the answer hiding as just another quilt square on the placid sea of bedding where the poet slumbers, dreams—
hears, in the reticence of this avuncular Innuendo: an answer, a decision, a choice, a syllogism, a Truth—Insinuated.
*Stanza V from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird“ in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (Alfred A. Knopf, 1954)
On “The Fifth Way”—Epigraph as Image—
Another Form of Ekphrasis?
Readers familiar with my work know that I often use epigraphs—short excerpts from others’ poems that have inspired my own work. Some of my best friends, authors, editors, critique-compadres, have warned, cautioned, lectured me that I overuse epigraphs. Perhaps I do, but my background in science has always demanded referencing of consulted works.
I believe that I have come to realize that I view my writing in response to these quotations as a form of ekphrasis. I do also write extensively in response to visual art and at least one of my books (Amanuensis Angel, Spartan Press, 2018) is comprised entirely of ekphrastic work. My use of epigraphs, I contend, is just an opening of my ekphrastic arms to include an author’s assemblage of words the way I would use an artist’s assemblage of images.
So, is “The Fifth Way” an ekphrastic poem, a reflection, an extended commentary on five perfect lines that certainly need no explication? Or is it an exercise in my own vanity? I sincerely hope that I have simply used his work as a springboard, a high-dive platform, and that somewhere along my way I did a tuck, a somersault, a splash-less entry into the pool of my own words, that I wrote in response to a few lines of Wallace Stevens that I can easily picture enshrined on the wall of the Louvre, a crowd of museum visitors gathered around, me standing behind them, pen and notebook in hand, peering at a stanza so lovely it had brought me to tears—brought me to thoughts and postulations, to the writing of words of my own, to a carefully considered conversation, to an Ekphrasis.
latest poetry collection is Mouth Brimming Over (Blue Cedar Press, 2019). Stage Whispers (Meadowlark Books, 2018) won the 2019 Nelson Poetry Book Award. Amanuensis Angel (Spartan Press, 2018) comprises ekphrastic poems inspired by modern artists’ depictions of angels. His first book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014), was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book. He recently co-edited (with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg) Kansas Time+Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry (Little Balkans Press, 2017). His poetry has been nominated for Pushcart (2015 and 2020) and Best of the Net (2018) awards, and was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019.
Beckemeyer serves on the editorial boards of Konza Journal and River City Poetry. A retired engineer and scientific journal editor, he is also a nature photographer who, in his spare time, researches the mechanics of insect flight and the Paleozoic insect fauna of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama. He lives in Wichita, Kansas, where he and his wife recently celebrated their 60th anniversary.
Please visit author’s website for more information about his books, as well as links to interviews and readings (scroll down his About page for the link-list).
⚡ Megarhyssa, ekphrastic poem by Beckemeyer in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 14, August 2022), nominated by MacQ for the Pushcart Prize
⚡ The Color of Blessings in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 5, October 2020), nominated by MacQ for the Pushcart
⚡ Featured Artist in KYSO Flash (Issue 12, Summer 2019); showcasing Beckemeyer’s poetry, prose poetry, and insect photography
⚡ Words for Snow, a prose poem in KYSO Flash (Issue 9, Spring 2018), which was selected for reprinting in The Best Small Fictions 2019