The Corpse Flower brings works from Bruce Beasley’s first four award-winning collections together with twenty-five new poems, organizing them around the metaphor that gives the book its title: an enormous tropical bloom that reeks like carrion, and around whose three-day florescence ‘dung beetles & flies & sweat bees swarm/pollen gummed all over/their furred feet’. The corpse flower serves as a figure for Beasley’s coming to terms with birth and death, fecundity and decay, the illusion of death, and the flourishing of the rare and beautiful out of the materials of the decayed. The Corpse Flower traces a spiritual pilgrimage, weaving autobiography into a larger meditation on the materials of language and of the life of the spirit. Beasley’s is a deeply physical spirituality – as he writes in one poem, ‘the soul’s/impossible to tell/from the objects of its appetite’. Throughout these poems, family mythology, as well as religious and mythic narrative and iconography, become occasions for extraordinary meditations on the physicality of birth and death, beginnings and endings. This substantial selection of Bruce Beasley’s work, written over a twenty year period, offers the opportunity to experience, page by page, a poet’s evolution, and to follow a unique, creative mind as it reaches, through interrogations of faith, science, and art, toward some form of resolution – a resolution increasingly represented by the beauties of language itself.
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Story and song and query and lung breathe at the core of these poems; they are exhaled—physically—as the (nearly) visible product of a mind ceaselessly roaming the corridors of meaning, restlessly pacing the halls of existence . . . fiercely flying in the face of tradition. And to what end? To make, as he has, an amalgam of flesh and spirit, profanity and profundity, of such equal parts that it is impossible to distinguish the ordinary from the astonishing.
These poems are smart; their play is all work; they make their meanings meaningful. At their heart is a deep questing, religious fervor embedded in childhood, a religious rage for order and explanation…
These are important, innovative poems . . . they have the feel of a new and intriguing direction—one that I predict will make Bruce Beasley’s reputation as a groundbreaking poet in the years to come.
–Judith Kitchen, Georgia Review
[Beasley] is, above all, a poet of spiritual ardor, a dyspeptic believer in the Geoffrey Hill mode, and Beasley’s penchant for complicated nonce forms, although they sometimes come across as nutty Rube Goldberg constructions, attest above all to his cranky devotional fervor…His many allusions to mystical esoterica—Meister Eckart, Julian of Norwich, the Gnostic gospels and the Corpus Hermeticuum, (not to mention plain old Bible verse)—are evidence not merely of Beasley’s learnedness, but also of his belief in the poem as a kind of heterorthodox spiritual exercise; he is a postmodern descendant of Herbert, Traherne, and Vaughn. Aside from Hill and . . . Charles Wright, there are few contemporary poets who can keep such august company… Like Robert Duncan, who was also powerfully drawn to Gnostic and Hermetic thought, Beasley’s reading in mysticism has, above all, animated his lyrical acuity. He draws from these traditions not merely for their substance but also to enhance his musical chops. And when he displays those chops, the results can be majestic. . . a fluency and rhetorical control that no other poet of his generation can match.
–David Wojahn, Kenyon Review