Poetry by Suzie Beckley
Analysed by Hannah Green
I find it hard to believe,
That anyone can see
What I can’t see,
Which isn’t the reflection I greet in the mirror,
As I critique my complexion,
And wish for something much thinner.
I can’t imagine
How anyone would look at me,
And be surprised or mystified
By my “inner” beauty.
But there lies the issue,
If I don’t like me inside or out
Then I will always accept compliments with doubt,
And I will never believe what others see.
But you see,
I’m trying to overcome the voice in my head,
That associates image with dread,
And puts obstacles in my mind,
Which I can’t unwind.
So I smash the mirror,
And make my world that much bigger,
Out the corner of my eye,
I turn the other way,
But not where my eye is drawn to.
I’m looking away,
So far away,
That I look your way,
And you look away.
You must have been tracing my steps home,
30 feet behind,
Too far to see,
Not close enough to be.
I’ll wear these marks with pride,
Because it’s nice to be wanted,
The words you whispered in my neck,
The lines you’ve left,
Ground me in myself,
And my sex,
A purpose I can set.
in these love bites,
And I can’t escape the validation I feel,
When you touch me real.
These three poems by Helicon’s own Suzie Beckley work together with interlocking themes of seeing and selfhood, recurring motifs bleeding in and out of each. They are a tender and touching exploration of young, feminine truths. In our late teens and early twenties we still seem to be feeling our way through life, as beauty, identity and love feel at one inextricably bound up, and achingly immediate, the intensity of adolescence not yet entirely departed.
The first, untitled poem is an immersive look at a speaker navigating the boundaries of inner and outer life through their complex self-image. There is a very natural urge to see oneself with the eyes of an outer world - and yet it is an urge that cannot be entirely satisfied. We as readers are at once within and without, involved in the speaker’s innermost thoughts and yet necessarily an audience. The mirror as a central image is both broadening and constricting, allowing the speaker to imagine other realities in which she is object rather than subject, whilst at the same time reducing her selfhood to a simple, exterior image. The sporadic rhyme scheme suggests the repetition of cyclical, obsessive thoughts, building up to the claustrophobic rhymes in the fourth stanza - ‘head’ with ‘dread’ and ‘mind’ with ‘unwind’, their tightness pushing for a release. This is given in the final three-line stanza, the assonance of ‘mirror’, ‘bigger’ ‘thinner’ are emphatic, the final rhyme decisive. The resolution to this tensions is afforded by the final smashing of the mirror, like a second, violent birth, a creation of a purer kind of selfhood.There is something in the confessional, informal tone that underlines the poem’s vulnerability. Snatches of conversational language in ‘“oh jee”’, ‘I don’t like me’ and ‘that much bigger’ give the poem the tone of an intimate conversation - it’s 2am, we’re wine-drunk, one or both of us is crying. It is a conversation that is at once confessional and accusatory, and one which is as familiar to us as it is heartbreaking. In the direct address of ‘you see’, the speaker implicates the reader as part of the outside world that sees her, necessarily complicit in the reception and creation of her self image, and the reader is necessarily unable to answer, to defend themselves or comfort the speaker.
The theme of seeing and selfhood is continued in Red, which captures a concentrated moment of almost-connection, a near miss. This short poem conjures up the sudden constriction of the chest when we catch sight of a particular person, the catching of breath and the vague panic (welcome or not) which follows. We can trace a potential connection through something as fragile and tenuous as a line of sight, so easily severed when one party looks away. The speaker is stuck, unable to look, uncertain if they’re being looked at, caught in a small eddy of intense feeling. The title and the recurring image of the colour red has implicit connotations of love, eroticism, warning and danger. There is the underlying frustration of the promise of love/the erotic never followed through, the hum of danger that never explodes into reality. In the second stanza, the repetition of ‘away’/’away’/’your way’/away’ functions like a will-they, won’t-they fliratition, linguistically turning back upon itself, cycling through ideas and images that repeat themselves with the fixation of an infatuation. There is something mournful here too, in the second party that never quite catches up with the speaker, who, within the small moment of this poem at least, is always thirty feet away. There is a poignancy in the constantly thwarted possibility of ‘Too far to see/ Not close enough to be’, as the fragile connection is not sustained long enough to create something more.
This idea of creation in interaction is explored more fully in Love Bites. The love bite works as a sign of something deeper and unseen, an unspoken and unspeakable something that has shifted within the speaker. There is an uneasy poignancy in the idea of demarcation, of ownership that the love bite suggests, even though the speaker wears the marks ‘with pride’. For the speaker, the love bite functions as an outward sign, not just to herself, but to the world at large, pointing to her desirability and her sexuality. However, there is still something unresolved about the poem - the first stanza contains the plaintive phrase ‘it’s nice to be wanted/ for once’, pointing to an underlying sadness that will linger longer than the lovebite. The acoustic echoes of the stressed ‘e’ in ‘left’, ‘sex’, ‘set’ in the third stanza draw the pieces of this small scene together and highlight the interplay between self and others, sex acting as a bridge between two people but also a performance that demonstrates the speaker’s perceived worth to the world at large. The final stanza links the potential violence of love, sex, and physical intimacy, and the vulnerability of allowing others to inscribe themselves onto our bodies, even if they seem to be making us ‘realer’. In the final line ‘you touch me real’, there is an act of creation no less loaded than the destruction of the mirror in the first poem. The fact that the speaker ‘can’t escape’ the feeling of validation in the sexual encounter curiously echoes the wish in the first poem to escape the pressures and imagined expectations of others. The creation here lies not in the looking, but in the experience, the idea of a self made real by others. In this same way, all art (poetry, visual, music) can be seen as existing within the interaction between piece and reader/viewer/listener, the ‘art’ really being the experience created in the moment of connection between the two. Poetry exists when the words on a page reach out and touch something within the reader, in the moment of connection is creation. In many ways, we are ourselves created by the interactions we have, with both inner and outer worlds, and the strange mystery of sex which seems to fuse the two. Read together, these three poems feed off each other and intertwine to present a complex portrait of a speaker learning to become herself, and exploring the inner and outer worlds imbued with love and desire.