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Catastrophic Chords / Marck L. Beggs

Catastrophic Chords

By: Marck L. Beggs

€12.00 €6.00
In his third collection, Marck L. Beggs puts forth his most thematically developed work yet. While the first part of the book comprises a series of musically oriented poems about relationships and loss, the second part concerns itself with an extended dialogue between Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Catastrophic Chords intends to appeal to the reader's sense of duality and paradox. While the Arkans...
ISBN 978-1-903392-89-8
Pub Date Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Page Count 64
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In his third collection, Marck L. Beggs puts forth his most thematically developed work yet. While the first part of the book comprises a series of musically oriented poems about relationships and loss, the second part concerns itself with an extended dialogue between Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Catastrophic Chords intends to appeal to the reader's sense of duality and paradox. While the Arkansas Review declared that his "second collection of poetry, Libido Café, further positions him as one of Arkansas' most compelling contemporary poets, this new collection hopes to make good on that promise.

Marck L. Beggs

Marck L. Beggs earned his Ph.D. from the University of Denver, his M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, and currently is a professor of English at Henderson State University in Arkansas. He is the author of four collections of poetry:  Blind Verse (Salmon, 2015) Catastrophic Chords (Salmon, 2008), Libido Café (Salmon, 2004) and Godworm (1995).  His poems have been published in numerous journals and magazines, including Oxford American, Denver Quarterly, Poet Lore, Missouri Review, Exquisite Corpse, Toad Suck Review, Arkansas Review, etc. In his spare time, he sings and plays guitar in the folk-rock band, dog gods.  In 2009, he was selected by PETA as one of the top-10 vegetarians over the age of 50.


If birds cannot play in the concerto,
bring the music up into the air.

If an artist is not a Modernist
when he is young, he has no heart.

If one harp will not rise above the din,
compose for two harps to speak as one.

If he is a Modernist when he is old,
he has no brain.

If the poet cannot find his muse,
he needs to find his eyes.

If the pianist cannot feel the chord
within the reach of her fingers

she must play with the whole of her arm,
for the chord must be catastrophic.

Copyright © Marck L. Beggs 2008
Review: Catastrophic Chords revewed in Toad Suck Review, January 2011

Marck L. Beggs, one of Arkansas’ most innovative and experimental poets, continues to dazzle with his third collection.  The book’s first half consists of a series of musically-tinged poems tied to love and loss, but it’s the second section, “A Cabin in the Woods,” where the power chords ring out to knock you back in your reading recliner.  Using call and response, a dialogue ensues between Henry David Thoreau and Theodore (Unabomber) Kaczynski.  The two men discover common ties, such as how a solitary life allows for contemplation and study. However, each woodland recluse also reacts quite differently to similar circumstances.  This dichotomy is best seen in what they create after extended bouts of solitude.  In “The Art of Writing,” the first letters in each line of Ted’s piece spell out I WILL KILL YOU in a creepy acrostic, while Henry, more passive and pragmatic, observes:

Literature can exist in a slip

of paper meant only to list the cost

of constructing a cabin or planting

of beans.

It all comes down to exported commodities, whether self-sustaining gardens or pipe bombs that bloom fire.  Dream visions of the two hermits, chatting at ATMs or poking Buddha’s belly, end the book.  However, my favorite moments occur at the end of the second section in two fascinating found poems – one collaged from bits of Walden and the other pieced together from shards of the bomber’s infamous manifesto\].  Ted’s patchwork poem ends with a chilling notation written (via Beggs’ rearrangement) long before Teabaggers started flaunting automatic weapons at political rallies:

If you think that big government

interferes in your life too much

we are reasonably confident

that the best diagnostic trait

to stop widespread life-expectancy

is to eat your cake and kill some people.

Welcome to the woods no fairy tale could imagine – a new, polarized, political desert of the real.  Beggs saw America’s coming stagnation/flagration in a powerful vision articulated years before its citizens had their democracy bought (thanks to the Roberts’ Supreme Court) with the fully loaded coffers of undisclosed corporate monies.  America, its collective hearing aid turned to a media noise machine that shouts round-the-clock nostalgia in the guise of simplified ideas, callously over-simplified political complexity instead.  As a result, more and more Americans continue to stumble into Kaczynski’s cabin fever.
Beggs’ prescient insights and potent musicality make this volume both a splendiferous and an unnerving read.

Toad Suck Review is a national/international literary journal published by the Department of Writing in the College of Fine Arts and Communication at the University of Central Arkansas. Its mission is to publish the most cutting-edge works of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, translations and reviews in the Universe. The 2011 debut of issue #1 (the “transitional issue”) marks the beginning of an annual literary phenomenon. Born from the legendary Exquisite Corpse Annual (whose editor in chief was the iconic Andrei Codrescu), which the Writing Department published from 2008 to 2010, “the Toad” now takes the place of “the Corpse” in an historic evolution that has established UCA as a major player in the literary arts.

Lightning by the line - Arkansans Marck Beggs and Roger Armbrust declare the power of poetry
By Werner Trieschmann
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

LITTLE ROCK - In a ceremony last fall in the well-adorned Great Hall of the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock, poet Miller Williams was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Porter Fund Prize program.

It was one more in a long line of recognition and accolades for the 79-year-old writer and University of Arkansas professor from Hoxie. At the event, Williams read several delightful pieces from his extensive body of work and spoke of his intention to write poetry with language that 'taxi drivers and squirrel hunters' could understand.

The evening served as a reminder of poetry's power - and, sadly, how it is now often relegated to a back shelf, trotted out only for special occasions, if acknowledged at all.

The fascination has substantially faded for poetry slams, where poetry put on dark sunglasses and an attitude to strut its stuff in competitions in nightclubs across the nation, including Little Rock and Hot Springs. The tough climate in the book business only makes printing poetry - a niche market if there ever was one -that much more a labor of love.

Despite all this, Arkansas has poets at work. Among that lot, perhaps a larger group than one would suspect, Style has selected two for profile. These two poets demonstrate seriousness in pursuit of their craft with published collections.

In his biography, Marck Beggs says he 'ives in a cabin by a pond in Arkansas, sort of like Thoreau with technology.' Beggs is known through his work as a professor and graduate dean at Henderson State University, his creation of the late and lamented Arkansas Literary Forum (full disclosure: This writer was published a few times in the online magazine) and his rock band, dog gods. Catastrophic Chords, which came out in 2008 thanks to the Irish publisher Salmon Poetry, is Beggs' third book of poems.

The work found in the first part of Catastrophic Chords, titled 'A Finer Air,' focuses mainly on music and love. The poems are erudite, well-observed and often vivid. The book's second section 'A Cabin in the Woods,' finds Beggs unleashing his dark sense of humor. There a reader will find Nine Dialogues, with 18 poems devoted evenly between Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century author of Walden, and Theodore John Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

Beggs' 'Brahms in the Airport,' in the first section, nails the unsettling atmosphere that awaits a traveler waiting to board a plane:

Brahms in the Airport
In a world of white noise, universal
hideousness pervades.  The very air
reeks of anxiety and monotones
yapping into cellphones. If hell can smell

worse than an elevator, or sound cheap
as country music, we have so arrived.
Then, as your teacher softly presses down
on the opening keys, and salvation

works its way through earphones, Brahms,
it would seem, was oblivious to hell. His Clara
hovering always near his heart, luring
his fingers awake, he spoke as a man

for whom love was bread. For whom life itself
brought only more music, a finer air.

Five questions for Marck Beggs:

Q: What kind of language do you think is most appropriate for poetry? Or are there any boundaries?
Beggs: Concrete, imagistic language tends to suit poetry best. But, no, there are no boundaries. Much like newspapers, poetry can handle everything from the vulgar to the sublime. Plus, poets are not afraid of particular words.

Q: You are in a band where you write lyrics. Can you tell right away if what you are writing is going to become a poem or song?
Beggs: Yes, I can usually tell right away. For one thing, I do not subscribe to the belief that song lyrics constitute poetry. It is a rare lyric that can hold its own on the page the way a poem can.
Not to mention the fact that, if you are trying to draw a song lyric out for a couple more syllables, you can just throw in a 'baby' or a 'woo woo.' Also, I tend to write music first, so I will have that in my head while writing lyrics. Poetry and song lyrics have much in common, but in the end they are not the same thing.

Q: You have this dialogue section devoted in part to the Unabomber. Why him? I mean, he's a crazy, violent murderer, right? Does he merit scrutiny?
Beggs: He absolutely merits scrutiny! Yes, he is violent and suffers from mental illness, but he is also a brilliant mathematician who went to Harvard at 16 and, in graduate school at Michigan, was publishing papers in math journals alongside his professors.
If you can manage to read Theodore Kaczynski's Industrial Society & Its Future (as opposed to The Unabomber Manifesto), I suspect you will find yourself agreeing with much of it. A dialogue between Kaczynski and Thoreau is natural because they are both concerned with the alienating effects of technology. I am glad the Unabomber is in prison, but that doesn't mean he has nothing to offer society, intellectually.

Q: Does living in Arkansas make you a better poet than, say, if you lived in Tokyo or Chicago or some other urban playground?
Beggs: No. For one thing, I most definitely am not a Southerner. I grew up in an Air Force family, and that peripatetic spirit inhabits me deeply. I would be the same artist no matter where I lived.
In general, the South is a confounding place. On one hand, it has an inferiority complex the size of Texas and reeks of anti-intellectualism, and yet Southerners are always bragging about all their great writers. Moreover, I don't believe in nostalgia, and the South is enamored with the past to an unhealthy degree. Why not focus on all the great things the region has to offer? Or, better yet, why even limit oneself through a parochial mindset?

Q: What is the biggest thing most people have wrong about poets or poetry in general?
Beggs: Well, since most people do not read poetry, I would say just about everything. I wish everyone would take the day off, unplug all their gadgets, find a quiet spot and spend some time slowly working through a collection of poems by Seamus Heaney or Yusef Komunyakaa or Anne Carson or Michael Heffernan or Carolyn Forché or Terry Wright.
If they would, they would find that poetry is exceptionally relevant to their lives and that good poetry is worth the effort. In fact, next time you meet a poet, buy her a sandwich. Next thing you know, you might be immortalized.

Roger Armbrust, fresh out of Catholic High School, first worked in the sports department of the Arkansas Gazette in the late 1960s and then was a reporter and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat.

He eventually left the state for Greenwich Village in New York, where he worked for a time as national news editor of Back Stage. Three years ago he moved back to Little Rock and is now an editor with Ted Parkhurst’s new publishing company.

If nothing else, Armbrust's The Aesthetic Astronaut (published by Parkhurst Brothers) demonstrates a seriousness of purpose. The book contains a whopping 122 sonnets with titles that indicate the range of thought from 'George Orwell' and 'When Love Was a Fudgesicle' to 'George Tribou.' Love is a big preoccupation, and Armbrust's poems are intimate yet playful - and, on occasion, funny. As a bonus, many in Little Rock will recognize multiple locations and characters in the sonnets.

'The Creek' is a fine example of the way Armbrust can animate and personalize a seemingly forgotten stream running behind an apartment complex.
The small creek slicing through Crestwood Manor 'slides some thirty yards beside an asphalt drive - before diving like glazed eels under brush - and the road' curve, then rises to vault crowds - of rocks and weeds, primed to disappear - through the dense trees of Allsopp Park. Even now, after standing watch over brooks - for years I marvel at each sparkling leap, laud how pools between them stand still and smooth, 'tintype / frozen in time. With a hundred dwellings /¨framing the stream, litter's a minor gripe. / The maintenance crew keeps it from swelling. /A burly groundhog drinks there, bulkslouching / in slow retreat each time I'm approaching.

Five questions for Roger Armbrust:

Q: What kind of language do you think is most appropriate for poetry? Or are there any boundaries?
Armbrust: Putting language boundaries on a poet would be like binding a baby’s feet to avoid growth and the later ability to walk, run, leap and dance. It's why we put the adjective 'creative 'in front of the noun 'writing.' The creative-writing process thrives on change, experimentation, 'pushing the envelope.'
The wonderful reality of language is that it's constantly evolving as civilization evolves. The question is, do you want to welcome that or fight it? If you want to welcome it, then you've a nearly endless delight of possibilities. If you want to fight it, then you're taking on a tsunami with boxing gloves - not much of a chance. And why fight it and place boundaries if you truly want to be creative?

Q: What makes the sonnet form attractive to you as a poet?
Armbrust: The sonnet form slipped up on me around 2000. I just began writing tighter, attempting to create an experience in 14 lines with basically a Shakespearean rhyme scheme. I began playing with it to see where it would go.
But I don't stick to the traditional iambic meter, because that's not the American language I hear. And I often strive for the 'plain speaking' Frost emphasized, pushing away from a concentrated rhyme sound at the line's end which could give the poem a singsong effect.

Q: You lived and worked for a long time in New York. Is there any difference in being a poet in New York as opposed to being a poet in Arkansas?
Armbrust: No. We're a continuum of our experience, imagination, and dreams that [Rainer Maria] Rilke spoke of. Every sensual experience invites our imagination to flourish. Whether among the brick or marble facades of Manhattan's Midtown or the oak- and pine-blessed walkways of Little Rock's 'Midtown,'my poet's sense still pushes me to pay attention to my immediate environment, the life around me, and how it relates to the rest of the universe.

Q: I would say modern communication - by that I mean the Internet - is one big subject for your poetry. Is that true? If so, how come?
Armbrust: In The Aesthetic Astronaut's 122 sonnets, the most consistent subjects I write about are loving relationships and a human's effort to remain human, with faith and hope, in a world of fear, greed, war, expanding technology, and depleting resources. The Internet plays a part in some of the sonnets because they deal with a contemporary setting where much we do involves the computer.

Q: What is the biggest thing most people have wrong about poets or poetry in general?
Armbrust: The poet Judson Jerome once said, 'People often complain that a poet is vague when they mean that he is too concrete.'The novelist James Michener said something to the effect of: A poet can say in 14 lines what it took him as a novelist to say in 500 pages.
Good poetry is intensely personal. Good poetry consists of such concentrated language, imagery, and ideas, that, if our attention as readers sways for a second, we lose our way. That's easy to do when one powerful image might recall a personal experience for readers, moving them within themselves and away from the poem.
That's upsetting for readers. We don't like feeling lost. Or looking deeply at ourselves. Society and technology tend to exhaust us. I can catch myself being the same way. Give me a ballgame or Sirius music rather than the news that might depress me or a poem that might lead me to really analyze my life.
Passivity and acceptance with an occasional feeling to remind us we're alive. Politicians, the TV and ad industry love such passivity and won't point it out to you. But poets will.

Other Titles from Marck L. Beggs

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