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This review is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Cover of Of Silence and Song
Valerie DuffNegative Capability
Dan Beachy-Quick, Of Silence and Song (Milkweed Editions) £9.99
American poet Dan Beachy-Quick is no stranger to an ambitious project. His latest Of Silence and Song, which is not wholly poetry, memoir, essay or history, begins by plunging into the negative: ‘On our walk my youngest daughter asked me, ‘What are the songs you don’t know?’ His answer: ‘Silence was the best description.’ Of Silence and Song devotes itself to this riddle, in search of where world and absence meet.

But this is a book not comprised of silence ultimately; it is one that calls attention to stillness and record. It is a book of histories and legends that have come to rest in silence and retelling. Of actions that can only be met with silence. But it is mostly about wandering. Using leitmotifs as guide, Beachy-Quick gives himself license to wander, ranging as far as Duchamp, the Greek muse Tacita, Paul Celan’s changing name (‘in anagram a kind of diaspora’), to the glint of the helmets in The Iliad. Ending on various pilgrimages with his family (to Rome, etc), the book is a preserver of relics. The things surrounded by silence are realised in minutiae (a young child’s sleep rituals, the pressed flowers left in Emily Dickinson’s bible, nails from Thoreau’s cabin). Of Song and Silence leans on the labyrinth of classical thought, from the origin of Hebrew letters and the story of Homer’s life, into the deepest modern quagmires of race violence, gun control and climate change.

Beachy-Quick is a poet, and there are poems laced throughout, but his ...

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