Sandra Beasley is the author of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, I Was the Jukebox, and Theories of Falling. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, The Believer, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Best American Poetry 2010
"More fun than most recent books. . . . If Beasley's conceits owe something to Kenneth Koch, her tone and her subjects might place her with chick lit, too: this is a book that could go a long way."
"There is something new here, maybe the birth of the new. . . . The gems in this collection have that Ornette Coleman complexity and genius. I Was the Jukebox heralds the shape of poems to come."
My first encounter with Sandra Beasley was last summer. I was teaching finance to high school kids, in class six or more hours a day and prepping for countless more, yet it was poetry not numbers that was most on my mind. On exam days, I would ever so discreetly read from my computer while the students penciled away and the TA thought me busy with the next week’s lesson plans. This was how I came across Beasley’s “Unit of Measure,” the unit there being the capybara. Do you know of the capybara?
Everyone barks more than or less than the capybara,
who also whistles, clicks, grunts, and emits what is known
as his alarm squeal.
At these lines I let out a laugh, a chortle more like. The others looked up with faces unsettled between amused and annoyed. I kept my secret.
Fast forward to the colder months. A package arrived from the opposite coast, from a poet friend who was the first (and one of few) to know of my secret love for verse, and inside was a copy of I Was The Jukebox with a note that read: “Sandra Beasley is hilarious, and I think you’ll have fun with this collection.” Scanning the contents page, I spotted the title “Unit of Measure” and gasped. How did she know?
In I Was The Jukebox, the orchid speaks, the eggplant waddles, and the piano shimmies through seaweed like salamander. These are the sorts of characters you’ll meet. They’ll crowd and shove and step on feet trying to get your attention, some more patient than people in line at the DMV and others all aclammer to be heard. When the sand speaks, it’s with command:
. . .Draw
a line, make it my mouth: I’ll name
your country. I’m a Yes-man at heart.
But inanimate objects aren’t the only ones present. Osiris and Beauty make an appearance. There are poems on music and the Greeks and love poems for college, Wednesday, and Los Angeles (my favorite). In “Cast of Thousands” the speaker takes us to war, explaining how “They buried my village a house at a time, / unable to sort a body holding from a body held,” and when we turn the page, it is the World War’s turn to speak.
The gifting of books is a dangerous practice and an art I aspire to master. I’ve given novels and children’s literature and even coloring books, each one with a few thought-out lines on why it was chosen for that particular person. But recommending poetry? And to readers at large? That is a habit I have yet to adopt. Consider this my warm-up lap.