Chicken Soup for the Lesbian Nun Soul
by Sally Mitani
From the March, 2015 issue
My book of Scott Beal's poems, Wait 'Til You Have Real Problems, has more pleats than a Catholic schoolgirl's skirt--from my habit of turning down a page with something I like, twice if I like two things.
What I look for in poetry is the sensation of jumping from ice floe to ice floe: just me and the poet, balancing on a thought. Another one sails by, we catch it, the poet one step ahead of me, leading the way. That's me and Scott Beal, whom I've never met, but he lives in Ann Arbor and will be reading with poet Jeff Kass at the U-M Hatcher Graduate Library on March 18.
Here's an example of the way Scott Beal sails around. Flip to page five to a poem called "Chicken Soup." Now that's a brave subject to tackle in poetry; it's been Campbell-ized into the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise since the 1990s where it joined apple pie, motherhood, and the ole swimming hole as "this better be good" subjects. And, sweet Jesus!, it is. He buys a six-pack, and he's thinking about something he read: how chicken soup was invented.
And what, you may ask, would such a crucialI won't give it away, except to say that it rivals the Song of Solomon in sensuality and involves lesbian nuns. In a lovely way.
roast chicken be doing so close
to Francescas' bathing quarters?
Later, in "Gross, Gorgonzola," a meandering muse on children, he again almost seems to be veering toward something hackneyed. As the narrator's finicky child picks at an over-privileged salad, he watches children outside the window who by accident of birth will never have the opportunity to think the thought of the poem's title. But where he goes next with that thought takes him out of maudlin pity into much tougher, existential territory. Many of his poems have that toughness. Often he begins by tracing the way back to a childhood event and, instead of revealing wonder and innocence, reveals childhood in all its horrifying clarity.
Beal is mostly not a playful poet, despite his easygoing colloquialisms, but in "Liner Notes," when he writes about himself, he lightens up, thanking artichoke hearts, diminished fifths, and any weekday without a cubicle. Scott would like to thank someone for Creation but hymns are for chumps.
[Originally published in March, 2015.]
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