John Beer

of Chicago, IL

Winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2011

No One Here Gets Out Alive: 
The Life of Lee Harvey Eliot  

Something happens. The idea is
to keep people from catching on fire.
"It smells so nice in here, like it's
some kind of castle."  Why else would I
have scattered my favorite propositions
in the path of some angry loser,
destined for at least a couple of minutes
to fill the day with mist, turn trumpets
into a series of abstract paintings
called "Abstract Series"?  The part
about mythology is finally over.
What replaced it nobody could say,
but giggled shyly, like a young
farmgirl, and proclaimed to his class,
"Flee to the mountains, for the end
of all things is at hand!".  He was acting
as a safety valve, keeping the two young lovers
from becoming overheated.  Good luck!
Eliot had a secretary named Pound,
Pound a secretary named Mussolini.
(Capsule history of the twentieth
century.)  Well, come on, I mean
some of my best friends are modernists,
or were, before their education fell upon them,
devouring hearts and livers, leaving
bare ruined backpacks behind.  The more
there is to see, the less there is to say
about it, except for maybe, "Look at the view,"
"I fell on account of the pretzel," or
"The wine I wanted to buy
wasn't there any more."  Meanwhile
an interminable series of internal conflicts
play themselves out, like single trumpeters
along a winding Spanish alley.  It
promises to be an arduous night,
and then it finds its promise
impossible to keep, but at the last
it finds its promise, writes it in flashes
across the pale pink sky:
Flee to the mountains!
The end of all things is at hand!

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Bin Ramke on John Beer

The real nerve, the daring outrageous heart of this book, is not in its title but in its range beyond irony. In spite of an apparent claim to cool detachment, this is a passionate and watchful book, full of the most amazing engagements. "I'm not myself" a poem deep in the book, announces—and sure enough, no "I" is. But whatever we thought we meant by the self—something like a boat just pulling away as we arrive at the pier—John Beer mourns it, murders it by turns. And yet this book so loves the language all us pseudo-selves bask in that the book makes of our need to speak (to ourselves, to each other) a phenomenal beauty.   As another of his poems announces, "The life I live is the only possible life," which might as well be beautiful, and is lovable.

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