2014 Featured Festival Poet: Jan Beatty

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

In her most recent collection, The Switching Yard, Jan Beatty writes:

beauty always with blood behind it,
nothing free.

That one word, blood, carries so many associations and meanings: The life force that flows through us, violence, passion, family bonds and heritage, longing, birth, love, fury, and the alarming knowledge that if too much spills from our bodies we will die.

There’s blood behind the beauty of Beatty’s poems. It might be more accurate to say the blood is the source of their beauty. It’s not something hidden from view by an artful veneer. The poems’ vivid imagery, original word play and varied rhythms, as technically accomplished as they are, are not there to impress us with their maker’s craftsmanship. These are not dainty little poems. They are shaped, propelled, fueled by everything the word blood conjures. There is an urgency behind the stories she tells us. Those stories are full of compassion, outrage, sadness and humor toward the characters who people them, including their speaker. Their richness of detail stems from the determination to pay attention to and capture the specifics of experience and place, whether that place is the Pittsburgh of her childhood, a roadside diner, a tiny apartment, or a landscape seen from a passing car.

And Beatty’s poems are full of rich and varied emotional landscapes. The territory is often instantly familiar, like the landscape of our own memories, and, like memory, full of places and people that return unexpectedly, or which we wish we could forget. Whatever we encounter in Jan Beatty’s poems, we come away grateful that she brought us there.

Visit Jan Beatty’s website, where you’ll find her bio, audio and video clips of her reading poems, and her evocative personal essay on her hometown of Pittsburgh.

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