A SOLITARY PINE TREE IN SUSSEX by TIM BEECHFIONNA DONEY SIMMONDS reviews
A Solitary Pine Tree in Sussex by Tim Beech
(Pighog, 2005. PO Box 145, Brighton, BN1 6YU, UK)
Skating warily between the often conflicting religious feelings of modern society, A Solitary Pine Tree in Sussex links spirituality with nature as Tim Beech searches, ponders and questions their relationship in his poetry. Breathing life into poetry resonant with meaning, he gently questions what is important to us in this day and age.
By disguising spirituality as nature, Beech has mastered a method of subtly raising awareness about our modern beliefs. In "The Praise Singer," a humble holly bush becomes a religious symbol. Emphasizing the battle between nature and machinery the poem illuminates the struggle religion has had to adjust itself, to redefine its message as the world has progressed and other concerns have vied for equal or greater importance:
Dark leaves glazed with sweat and difficult,
Berries the hard-won blood of forgiveness
Pointing towards grace or the idea of grace.
Memory, part-recovered, part-revealed
Of forged iron, wood and the struggle for meaning.
The line, "Of forged iron, wood and the struggle for meaning" suggests a period of industry, factories and blinding consumerism, while "Dark leaves glazed with sweat and difficult, / Berries the hard-won blood of forgiveness" offers one explanation as to the jaded nature of people towards a sense of absolution. "Berries" is a clever suggestion of ‘buries’ and turns the line from berries emphasising the colour of blood/wine and symbolising Christ’s Last Supper to aurally burying the words of forgiveness for which Christ sacrificed himself for humanity. The final lines "From the black-rainbow reflection of sump oil / To dead leaves at the foot of the holly / Shaping precisely the edge-tool of words." lead us back to the image of the Praise Singer, the Prophet or Priest whose struggle to remind us of our need for redemption and duty of Christian Charity falls upon deaf ears, like the leaves of the holly bush that bloom then fade to become dust beneath our feet. It is a simple analogy but one that reveals deeper meaning the more it is discussed.
Beech exposes human frailty in his clever sonnet sequence entitled "Winter" that uses a rigid eight and six line form to great effect. Moving through the seasons from October to March, the months of darkness are evocatively portrayed:
The world grows cold; a stark and bitter place
Devoid of feeling. The vixen on the road
Turns quietly away. Her time has gone.
Along the lane the owl, death’s pretty face,
begins to hunt. Her talons fix my soul;
This man who fears to walk the night along.
- I – October
The animals are at home in the night, at home in the darkness that makes them rely on instinct and higher senses. We are afraid of our intuition, we are afraid of the dark because we question what is out there. The vixen "Turns quietly away", she feels the world has become too cold a place for her and so we are left with the owl, "death’s pretty face," who haunts us and feasts on our corpse-like bodies that no longer live with the vitality of a spiritual life to enflame the soul and make the world a warmer place for the vixen to live in. Humanity’s preoccupation with the self is continued in December when the poet immerses himself in Nature’s bounty to praise the beauty and magic of Christmas Day, until:
The moment passes; carried through the air
The noise of traffic on the nearby road
Dissolves the magic, turns the world once more
To Mammon and to plunder; greed and gold.
Was it the breeze, no louder than a sigh
That made me think I heard a baby cry?
- III – December
The final lines mourn for us, they mourn the spiritual death we suffer and the vapid consumerism we have tried to replace the void with. Beech’s mastery of poetic technique is apparent throughout this collection. He uses form sensitively and playfully -- often to devastating effect. Take his cunning twist on courtroom-style judgement in "The Prophet," as Beech questions the sentence upon a crow of execution by stoning:
Curious, I sought to know the offence.
Was it, I asked, that he had picked an eye
From a lamb not yet dead or plucked the tasty
Strings of gut through a blood raw back-end?
It was neither; for such are not accounted crimes,
They are the ways of crows and crows must eat.
The shocking answer becomes one of Society’s guilt and embarrassment:
The lone voice crying in the wilderness,
The shrieking, screaming madman on the street
Who dares to stand alone before the mob
And level-eyed berate them for their lies:
The "errant" crow may represent an Apostle; "They beat his brains to pulp before my eyes", suggesting the public stoning of the Christian martyr Stephen. On a more modern level, the crow may represent the Christians that stand in the middle of busy shopping thoroughfares on Saturday mornings proclaiming the word of God until their voices are hoarse; hostile glares and jeers bouncing off their divine armour.
There is not room to discuss the remainder of the collection in as much depth as I would like to. They touch on his life as an Estate Worker, and on his memories. They are as deep and thoughtful as I found his spiritual poetry to be, although the abyss that separates them makes it a little hard to appreciate his more conventional subjects. I must confess to not liking this collection upon my first reading, but the more I read it, the more I respond. His poetry is pure art: clever, precise and beautiful. You read A Solitary Pine Tree in Sussex with excitement and pleasure enhanced by the beautiful imagery and lines it contains.
Passionately committed to poetry and raising its profile, Fionna Doney Simmonds is the Poetry Editor for Moondance.org and has had reviews published at Moondance.org, parametermagazine.org.uk, as well as in the journals Avocado and Reader's Review. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org