Sunday, September 2, 2012

6th Canadian book challenge - 2nd post

Well, my planned sequence is totally shot, but I guess that is ok.  Given it is a long weekend, I may finally get caught up.  In any case, I am going to review a second poetry collection by Kimmy Beach (the poet featured in my first post for this challenge -- In Cars).  It is Alarum Within: Theatre Poems (Turnstone Press, 2003).  I had fairly high hopes, since I worked with a theatre company for 2.5 years in a non-acting capacity (like Kimmy I knew my strengths were not in acting).  I should say up front that the approach is largely the same as In Cars, i.e. confessional and dealing in marginally aberrant behaviour, but the voice isn't quite as strong or as developed.  Also, the collection as a whole doesn't cohere as well.  Kimmy seems to be detailing odd things that happened to her on a play-by-play basis, and naturally some are not as interesting to outsiders.  In contrast, there is a definite shape to the poems of In Cars -- (semi)-innocent state, risky behaviour leading to tragedy, and then almost a fugue state where Kimmy is processing the accident and it keeps imprinting itself onto the rest of her life, making it (understandably) hard to move on.  Despite my partial disappointment in this collection, I will certainly read her forthcoming books, since she grew considerably between Alarum Within (2003) and In Cars (2007).  It looks like Last Temptation of Bond is coming out next year, though this looks a little more pop culture-oriented than these other two.  In addition to the confessional poems, she has written Fake Paul (2005) about hunting down traces of the Beatles in Liverpool.  I may track that one down and see what I think.

One thing I did learn is that In Cars is set in Saskatchewan*, based on internal evidence.  We learn that Kimmy has runs in with a number of the actors in her small regional theatre and perhaps not surprisingly she pops pills to get through some rough nights. There is a section that seems painfully revealing about her childhood adoration of a man (Mr. Dress-up) who performed for children and who disappointed her by not adopting her and/or showering her with love.  (It isn't entirely clear to me, but either her mother was a single mom or Kimmy desperately wanted to escape her life.)  When the actor comes through town again on a farewell tour, Kimmy works up the courage to tell him that her 5-year-old self wanted more than a postcard filled in using a rubber ink stamp:
"(I told my mom
my name's not Friend)"
from "Dear Friend"

Apparently she asks (as an adult) to look inside his magic trunk:
"Of course you can look inside, Kim
he says, but I'm afraid 
you might be disappointed


Of course Mr. Dressup ("Call me Ernie") is correct:
"inside    a green felt Robin Hood hat
two plastic flutes   one black magic marker
some sawdust   the most
devastating sawdust in the world"
from "Raiders of the Lost Tickle Trunk"

The next section is about Kimmy being struck down by encephalitis early during rehearsals for Brecht's Mother Courage.   Most of the poems are about her partner (husband-to-be) and mother visiting her at the hospital but the director also comes around to see if she is going to pull through in time to stage manage to show (she doesn't).  She does, however, manage to see a performance of the show and finds it terrible and the audience stays away in droves.  While this might just possibly be due to the fact that the bleak topic isn't a good fit for regional theatre, Kimmy decides that:
"it's not true what they say
it will fall apart if you're not there
I'm living proof
I am indispensable"
from "The Worst Show I've Ever Seen"

I wasn't as interested in the sections describing her adventures during Jesus Christ, Superstar or Oliver!, at least in part because musicals are not of great interest to me.  I honestly couldn't really follow the thread of "seek the deepness," although Scene 21 appears to be the seeds of In Cars.

I generally thought the last section (about Hamlet) was the strongest.  Each of the 4 poems in the sequence Proverbs starts with a snarky comment about actors, like "Give not unto the actors their props before their time, for as surely as the sun doth rise in the east they shall lose or break them."

The last poems following Proverbs are definitely a bit darker and they seem to be combining the action on stage with Kimmy's own history of either a miscarriage or an abortion.  Like "seek the deepness," I wasn't entirely sure what she was getting at.  I suspect the topic is (or was then) still so raw for her that she needs to be somewhat indirect about it.

On the whole this is an interesting collection, but I would probably have enjoyed it a bit more had I read it prior to In Cars.

* Oops, Alberta after all (see comments).


  1. Wow! I'm delighted by your reviews of my books, Eric. Thank you so much for taking the time to give them such thought and such honest reviews. I can tell you that a good deal of both books you reviewed is totally made up :-), as is most of my work. I'm in Alberta, incidentally, and both books are set there.

    How gratifying to see that someone is reading me with this kind of care and attention. I agree with you that Alarum Within is flawed, but as you note, several years passed between the publication of that and in Cars.

    Thanks a million!

    All best,
    Kimmy Beach

    PS. This might interest you, if you're looking for the line between the real and the imagined in my work:

    1. Kimmy:

      I'm glad you liked the reviews (I've been traveling and haven't had a chance to get to the blog). I've been reading a lot of poetry (Canadian and American mostly) for a proposed anthology, and my two favourite discoveries were In Cars and Sue Sinclair's Mortal Arguments.

      That is a great interview in Antigonish. I can see that I have conflated your poetic and real biographies (and indeed you don't consider yourself a confessional poet at all). I think it is quite easy for the reader (who doesn't have any other info to go on) to take this stance. It also seems more common to make this mistake for poets compared to novelists, simply because of the implicit (and yet often misleading) intimacy of the format. I definitely like your comment about how you can go and rewrite your past the way you wish it had been.

      Still, I think I will leave the review as is --perhaps with an asterisk next to the part where I said the books were set in Saskatchewan.

      Anyway, best of luck with your future work, and I'll try to check out your upcoming collections.


  2. Hi Eric,

    Oh yes, please leave the reviews exactly as they are. I invite any and all responses to my work. If I'm being read carefully, I can ask nothing more. You are a very careful reader of my work, and I'm deeply honoured by it.

    Also, I wouldn't say for a second that your reading is a "mistake". Not at all. It's actually really cool to hear that what you hear as the intimacy can lead a reader to think that it's all me. That's a great observation and I appreciate it. Keep doing what you do, and I'm delighted that you connected with my work at all, on any level. It's so nice for a poet to know that her work is being read, and that what we create is not in some kind of vacuum written with invisible ink, but is actually being thought about by readers out there.

    All best to you, and I'll pop you a note here when the next book is out (February some time).


    1. Thanks for checking in. Just to let you know, I borrowed Fake Paul from the library and should have the accompanying review ready in Nov.