Review by Terry Wright for The Arkansas Review, April 2005
Marck L. Beggs' second collection of poetry, Libido Café, further positions him as one of Arkansas' most compelling contemporary poets. Beggs smoothly juggles tone, sound, and form without one drop. His insights cut through common experiences and social hypocrisies like a serrated edge. He will have you laughing before you notice the hint of a bitter aftertaste. There is beauty and wonder around the edges of these poems, and your famished senses will not thirst at this café. Drink up.
Part of the book reproduces selections from his first collection, Godworm. His dog, Kilty Sue, a "slightly retarded devil-dog," bites interlopers and wails "as a drunken soprano" but her shrillness masks her genuine love and protective nature. Ever aware, Beggs understands there are worse creatures that bite -- like the love bug. In "A Vision of Love," an adolescent crush turns increasingly nasty as the persona is beat up by schoolgirls, but Beggs saves the worst beating for himself. Love is a perpetual knockdown and recovery with subsequent pangs of failure -- a cycle that repeats into adulthood. One day, the fight will be institutionalized. You will settle down, marry a "woman who swears / she loves you" before
she tugs open your underpants
and shoves a wild, screeching kitten
among your softest parts.
Even when addressing you point-black with a startling directness, Beggs can show a softer side. Sometimes, he'll seem almost shy, as in the befitting "Victorian Erotic," where the "gift of my tongue" speaks volumes more than any "stupid, bloated / asphyxiated words / with which I try to reach you." In another poem, "My Daughter's Books," the traditional dark stories undergo a transformation. Witches can "swim" and each metaphor is a bird with the gift of liberating flight. A good oral reading augments magic in stories and creates a world where
- the heroine shakes open
her wings as her suitor stands tall to crow.
All I know of reading - to mean it well
as a matter of course - is to hear the bird in the bell.
Beggs also enjoys insightful jokes. He is at ease with playful experimentation and biting social criticism. In "Personality Type: Smoker," Beggs collages a found poem from a Camel cigarette pack producing a combination of Keats and wild surrealism:
Warning. The camel is a surgeon.
The sky casts a golden cancer -
Elsewhere, Beggs picks off targets as effortlessly as shooting skeet. "The National Endowment of the Arts: A Parable" is a teaching fable of Philistines ("loosely translated as Republicans") putting the screws to an early cave-painting artist. In "Vulgarity 101", the readers get a detailed lesson (including history and entomology) in the art of the snappy comeback. Finally, in "Speak Up for My Opinions," the persona brazenly blurts out talk radio-like proclamations that sting with irony. Listen up, because
I think that anyone who kills anyone should be killed, and then
that killer should be killed.
Beggs pushes buttons by design to help us see human follies and social insincerity. But he can just as easily make us catch our breath with a candid statement or arresting turn of phrase. With Libido Café, Beggs provides a nourishing stop for readers who will find its rewards never close.
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Tuesday, 04 January, 2005
Marck Beggs teaches writing and literature at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where he also edits the online "small magazine" Arkansas Literary Forum. (Disclosure: I occasionally contribute to ALF.) He's also one of the undersung cultural heroes of the state, being widely viewed as one of the few who can serve as an acceptable intermediary between the various belle-lettrist cliques that have sprung up.
But never mind that; he's also a poet, and while that's not always the sort of thing that speaks well of a person -- what with the idea of poetry having become polluted by exposure to undisciplined ranters, precious cat collectors, professional obscurists and generally seen as the least resistant road to artistic credibility by no-talent dilettantes -- Beggs is the real thing, working with form and word flavor as well as the cruel and flashing blade of unsettling insight. His latest book, Libido Cafe, is published by Salmon Poetry, a small but influential Irish house. It is available in local bookstores and, failing that, through Salmon's Web site (salmonpoetry.com).
While it is difficult to write about the evocative arts without sounding like a jackass, Beggs' work is keen and strong and sometimes awash in sorrow. Sometimes they are funny. And a vein of bitter truth runs through them all.