by Derek Beaulieu
Coach House Books, 96 pp.
On the back cover of Calgary poet Derek Beaulieus With Wax, the poetic structure of the book is described as being meant to "release us from the shackles of syntax" by imitating the caves in Lascaux, France, where some of the oldest human marks exist. It suggests Beaulieus poems move through the production process of mark-making, as well as physically relating to the caves architecture. The mark-making in this case is not painting, but the printed word.
In regard to the paintings, Beaulieu addresses how conditions of landscape affect them, but not what these paintings might mean to us. He describes "an engraved sketchpad of ideas, half-images" without saying what these ideas could be. He describes printmaking as being similar to paintings in the caves by "the text (being) carved into the walls and leeched into our water" without telling us what affect this would have on our environment or us. Much of With Wax is, to use his words, "difficult to discern."
The notion of relating ancient paintings to poetry has been done before. Beaulieus teacher, Fred Wah, based his poetry on native rock paintings in Pictograms from the interior of B.C. The difference between Beaulieu and Wahs work is that Wah based his poems on the actual paintings, while Beaulieu has used the paintings of Lascaux as a structure, but with little reference to the actual pictures other than in the titles.
Its easy to understand why the subject of printmaking intrigues Beaulieu. He has been involved in editing dANDelion and filling Station, and is the editor and publisher of housepress. So its hard to understand why he doesnt address his relationship with the printed word. He looks at the art of mark-making, but not the human or the human reason behind those marks. There is no inner truth for the reader to relate to.
With Wax is rich with one-liners, such as "blocks of wood are ideal readers." But these lines appear intermittently throughout the book there is no flow to any of the poems. Poetry must be more than a series of one-liners in order to be accessible. Then again, when reading With Wax, one gets the feeling Beaulieu does not think you are capable of understanding him. At the end of the book, an explanation is added, but a work of art should be able to stand on its own.
What if Beaulieus play with language was used to expose a vulnerability in language and its communication, or perhaps a vulnerability within the poet himself? What if Beaulieu further explored the history of mark-making by including the reasons for its existence the need for human expression itself? Beaulieus poems demonstrate his ability to move words. They would be stronger if he also wrote to move the reader.