Wednesday, November 22, 2017



As a Bee by Simon Pettet
(Talisman House, Massachusetts, 2014)

Simon Pettet was born in England in 1953 but moved to New York City in 1977, where he still lives. In addition to four previous collections of poetry, he has collaborated on two books with the photographer Rudy Burckhardt. A devotee of the movement known as the New York School of Poets, he has edited The Art Writings of James Schuyler (1998) and Other Flowers, a posthumous collection of Schuyler’s writing (2010).

As a Bee is a slim volume of thirty poems. Its title invites the reader to fill in the missing word at the beginning yet these poems, despite the cover showing a hive of activity, are far from busy. Taking the title as a conjunction is perhaps more in keeping with the second poem in the book which is the title poem and also a found poem. Nearly all of the eight sentences begin with the phrase “as a bee…” and end up saying much the same thing in eight different ways.

The first and last poems in the book complement each other with their references to fire and smoke and act as bookends to the poems in between. The last poem, "Smoke Extinguished," is full of contradictions. Are the lights about to go on or off? Is the sound turned down or up? Is the interim what it means or does it extend to the full performance? Has the smoke really been extinguished or is the fire about to begin?

We would like you all
To remain in your seats
In the interim
(For the duration
Of the proceedings)
Have faith

The show
Is about to spiral.

Here we have a reference to smoke towering or tapering in a column. But it could also be a reference to the poet as spiralist – someone who is engaged in spiralism – an ambitious person. The jury is out.

Pettet is a poet of few words. His poems are quiet and there are few titles to draw the reader into them. Just over half of the poems listed on the contents page are simply titled "POEM" followed by the first line in parenthesis yet when it comes to the actual pages upon which they are printed even this, in several instances, is missing which leads one to wonder, without reference to the contents page, where one poem ends and another begins.

Some of the poems in this collection are tough nuts to crack. When you finally break through the outer shell, hoping to get to the kernel, they do not deliver themselves up in manageable portions but scatter into fragments that are difficult to piece together. The exquisite and intriguing "POEM" (“As long as she lived”) is a case in point:

As long as she lived, I was not sensible
Of the misfortunes of being blind
Scales falling from my eyes
I still had my looks.
It was for that reason that I adored her image
Embodied in amber
Trapped, we would, perhaps, live forever.

I have always maintained that it is possible to enjoy a poem even if its sense eludes you and, although I enjoy this one, a little more clarity would have helped me to appreciate it all the more. Other poems, such as "Some Musings In The Solarium," "Dashwood Brooks" and "Venice" are easier to comprehend.

There is a lot to admire here. I like the alliteration of "Frieda fostered the fan club" as a line-opener to the poem on page 19 and the closing couplet telling how, when faced with money, fame, or happiness, "she stacked the cards up for happiness." I also appreciate Pettet’s concern for the animal world in "POEM" (“coyote howls on the crossroads”), the elliptical biographies to be found in poems such as "Biographia Literaria" and "POEM" (“The mysterious Robert Feke”) in which we are given tantalizing details to muse upon and the way in which, at the close of "POEM" (“He believed in Zen friendship”), Pettet sums up the art of his craft which is expressed as

the maximum compassion [in]
the minimum number of syllables. 

These are quiet observations, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, written by a poet who is not given to making the big statement but content to express himself in the fewest possible words.


Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, England, 2014), Sleeve Notes (Bibliotheca Universalis, Romania, 2016) and Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, England, 2017).

No comments:

Post a Comment