By Katharine Beeman
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Chapbooks are so overlooked in the publishing world. Even poets these days usually bypass the chapbook stage and go straight for the gusto: a book.
But there is a special quality a chapbook has that a full collection often times does not have: focus.
Montreal poet Katharine Beeman writes in the introduction to A Swamp And Forest Inlander Meets The Sea, “This book, balancing over the abyss of a global economic crisis on the cusp of another world possible, of which Fidel Castro has already proved himself a first citizen, is a wavelet in the islands shores and establish the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (United States Declaration of Independence) for the people of both Cuba and the United States.””
I love that Beeman included an introduction! It is rare for a full collection to have one, never mind a chapbook.
A Swamp Inlander Meets The Sea is a celebration of the great feats Fidel Castro and his crew accomplished via images of an island and it’s people that are loved and hated by many. It’s also memories spread out in different pieces of Beeman’s thoughts on Cuba and her time there. Beeman writes of land, sea, and water along with love, life, and revolution.
Twenty-three poems across twenty-six pages makes for a fast and entertaining read and re-read. (You should see her live performances! Most recently at International Festival of Poetry of Resistance #4.)
Yearning In A Different Language is part of a running theme throughout Beeman’s chapbook: amor. Feeling the freedom of intimacy via her long hair flowing down her back, her lover’s body representing the island she loves and its fight for autonomy, the merging of two different places via two different shades of skin, Beeman beams you to a high place via her images and openness.
Water, our strongest force on Mother Earth, is another theme which Beeman uses to connect poems to peoples and peoples to land. From the front cover showing a coral reef with clams stuck in it, to the “blue sea” mentioned in the above poem, to “moonlit swims” in her poem Truth, and an entire poem about skin submerged in water, Swimming, Beeman writes of this strong force in parallel to the strongest spiritual force: love.
Swimming from Canadian cold waters to the hot sun in Cuba, Beeman shares her imagination of reaching her lover via floating from Ontario to Varadero. It’s funny how most of us have dreams of love that might embarrass us, so we keep quiet. Beeman doesn’t care. She lays her dreams out on the page. In Swimming she yearns for her lover like she yearned in a different language. She pictures him swimming his way to her and later she swimming to him. Maybe they could meet halfway? Maybe we all dream such dreams? Maybe we’d be a better society if we did dream like Beeman and weren’t afraid to share our dreams with others?
Beeman continues dreaming in Addendum, 2008, to Nicholas Guillen’s “Little Rock”:
Imagine it now, in 2008
even in New Orleans
imagine it now
Imagine it now
ask those living
in all those Little Rocks,
what is their limit
how far will they let it go
before that great people
and forces the imperial foot
off their necks
and the neck of the world?
Imagine it now.
Beeman writes poems for Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the Cuban 5, Cuba’s tanks, and her lover(s). There is no confusion on what side Beeman stands. She believes in revolution, love, energy, community, and power of the people. The above poem shows her ability to connect global struggles and point out whose feet are leading the destructive paths that oppress many to benefit a select few.
I agree with much of Beeman’s words. My focus is not on Cuba or its revolutionaries. My feet walk a different colonial reality. But I respect the time and effort put into these poems, most of all I respect the transparency of Beeman’s voice.
Katharine Beeman is a word warrior who uses poetry as autobiography. She is the swamp and forest inlander who meets the sea. And thank Creator for that! Maybe she’ll leave a legacy like the one she writes of so beautifully:
One woman’s hands
a hundred children’s fists
pencils writing, rising
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday October 31, 2012 for an inclusive interview with Katharine Beeman.