Photographers Unknown, Life Stings the Pale Horses of My Desire
I try to find the words to describe the body of your plea-
sure. A cool lnaguage of tundra or a language incandescent
as water, as the ocean. All words are rooted, forests and fields
overgrown with violets and acids, with physical properties of
an object seeded in lead or oxygen. Let the forest grow wings
and the incandescent populate the night sky! The web net
fabric of your pleasure is purple pink magenta. Your veins
spill over with blood and the blood is lava, rumbling into my
valley. When I enter the mangle of our sexes, the deepthroat-
ed hummingbird flies.
When I see you, there are visions before me that sunflowers
cannot expel, of dark roses of blood and terror pricking me
with thorns. When I see you, my life is invalid with gauze, a
screen of soft thickness, a desiring and bereavement found
and lost. To touch, have, share you. . .this is flow, or a dark
corrosion of the senses, like rust building a rainbow of stone.
What we give hatches the egg of an apocryphal bloom. Every
moment your breathe, life stings the pale horses of my desire.
Each moment the invisible arms of my love stretch across
mountains. The wild hawk delivers its claw into your chest.
Jeffery Beam, When I See You, Poems from the Golden Legend (1981), The New Beautiful Tendons, 2012
Born in the textile-town of Kannapolis, North Carolina in April of 1953, Jeffery Beam is an American poet, essayist, and musical collaborator. In his lyrical work, known for its simplicity and physicality, he creates conversations between the body and the natural and spiritual worlds. Until his retirement in November of 2011, Beam was a botanical librarian for thirty-five years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 1984, he has lived with his husband, Stanley Finch, at their residence ‘Golgonooza at Frog Level’ in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
In his early life, Jeffery Beam realized the connection between his spiritual understandings, his queer identity and his existence as a Poet. In the 1970s, he delved into Zen Buddhism, the Way of the Tao, and the teachings of the Vedanta. From the literary works of such writers as Walt Whitman, Jean Genet, Kabir Das, Frederico Garcia Lorca, and Rainer Maria Rilke, Beam gained a new perception of the nature of desire in the material world. His understanding and acceptance of his true nature as a spiritual, queer poet is carried throughout all of his many works.
In 1979 with the arrival of a postcard from nationally published poet Jonathan Williams, Beam began a long association with Williams and his life-long partner poet Tom Meyer, as well as other members of The Jargon Society and the Black Mountain College community of artists. Williams, through his encouragement and frequent correspondence, would become one of the most important influences in the development of Beam’s poetic work.
Jeffery Beam has been a judge in the Poetry Division of the Lambda Book Awards for ten years. He also judged the annual poetry contest of Durham, North Carolina’s “The Independent Weekly” in 2014. Beam began teaching workshops in the spring of 1996; among these were “The Dog of Art in the Garden of Toads”, and “Fossil Poetry: Seeing the Word, Hearing the World”, which was sponsored by the North Carolina Writers Network.
Beam’s “An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold” was published in January of 1999 by Horse & Buggy Press in an edition of one thousand copies. Illustrations by Ippy Patterson accompanied Beam’s poetry which reworked the bestiaries found in Pliny’s ancient Roman and Edward Topsell’s 15th century works as published in English translation in Muriel St. Clare Byrne’s 1926 “The Elizabethan Zoo”. The collection was awarded an IPPY Award in 2000 as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year and received one of the 50 Books 2000 Awards from the American Institute for the Graphic Arts. With grants and support from such organizations as the Duke Museum of Art and the North Carolina Zoological Park, as well as private contributions, the publication of the collection was complemented by exhibitions, readings and interactive presentations across North Carolina.
Jeffery Beam’s “Spectral Pegasus: Dark Moments” was a result of a six-month collaboration with the Welsh painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins. The 2019 collection, based loosely on an ancient Welsh folk tradition and the death of Hicks-Jenkins’s father, joined the two men’s understandings of myth and dream into a singular poignant but joyful design. “Spectral Pegasus” details a hero’s journey through death and resurrection, psychological and spiritual trials, and ultimately towards a revelatory, redemptive vision. Following its publication, Beam held a poetry reading and discussion of this work at the Museum Arts Center of the Black Mountain College in August of the same year. This poetry/art collection includes an audio CD and downloadable MP3 files.
Beam’s “The New Beautiful Tendons”, a collection of queer poems from 1969 to 2012, contains previously published works, selections from his CD collection “What We Have Lost: New and Selected Poems 1977-2001”, and several unpublished poems that expressed his queer identity. The poems in this collection are written in spare and direct language that delights in the body’s beauty and show the connection between a naturalized gay man and a spiritualized nature.
In addition to his poetic chapbooks and collections, Jeffery Beam’s literary works include: his co-editorship of “Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards”, a biography and a homage to the renowned poet; the 2008 “On Hounded Ground”, an autobiographical essay with poems; and the 1998 “Light and Shadow”, a monograph on the photographic work of Claire Yaffa known for her documentary work on homelessness and child abuse. Beam has also worked with mezzo-soprano Shauna Holiman, cellists Barbara Stein Mallow and Wendy Law, and pianist Brent McMunn on “Life of the Bee”, a work written by Lee Holby based on a cycle of poems by Beam characterizing the residents and activities of a beehive.
“Poetry, music and dance all started in the cave and were meant to pull down that Divine, mysterious energy in the universe that no one could quite figure out and felt that they needed to access. In this way music and dance and poetry are almost inseparable. That’s why when I am on stage you see me sort of dancing as well as singing and reciting the poems. I don’t think you can or should separate them. What I do is attempt to access the Divinity that permeates this world, that’s my role as a poet— it’s not the mainstream now but it’s an ancient mode of poetry— which is vatic, and for me also rooted in Vedic mysticism — the one-in-all, the Atman.”
—Jeffery Beam, “Nantahala Interview” with poetry editor Mark A Roberts, North Carolina Literary Festival, Chapel Hill, April 2002
Note: Jeffery Beam’s website includes interviews with the poet, poetry readings and songs composed on his work, recent publications, contact information and works about poet Jonathan Williams. The site is located at: https://jefferybeam.com
Jeffrey Beam’s papers, which among other items include correspondence, poetry notebooks and recordings, are housed in the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina
Top Insert Image: Bernard Thomas, “Jeffery in the Woods”, 2000, Durham Herald
Third Insert Image: Stanley Finch, “Jeffery Beam at William Blake’s Grave, London”, 2017
Fifth Insert Image: Kyle Hodges, “Jeffery Beam at Golgonooza”, 2015, The Daily Tar Heel