The University of Iowa

At the Reading: Dan Beachy-Quick and Sally Keith

By Denise Jarrott

Listen: Dan Beachy-Quick and Sally Keith reading | Feb. 21, 2013

It is strange how being at a reading can feel either alienating or comforting. For forty-five minutes, everyone is part of a community, and yet somehow not. It is both rare and common to be in a room full of poets or aspiring poets. To listen is to exist in a liminal space: both present and not. You are silent, but you are present.

Earlier in the day, on February 21st, I had been able to participate in an Undergraduate Creative Writing Track event that involved coffee, cookies, and the opportunity to ask poet and essayist Dan Beachy-Quick questions. I'd been to these events before, and I am often too nervous to ask questions. I was pleasantly surprised that Dan was so open to questions and had that mysterious type of presence that puts an entire room at ease. I suppose he is what some call "an old soul." Beachy-Quick's intelligence is undeniable, but he approaches reading, writing, and speaking with a kind of quiet exuberance.

Later that night, at the Dan Beachy-Quick and Sally Keith reading at Prairie Lights Bookstore, I learned that Dan was a former Prairie Lights employee. He related to the audience a dream which took place in Prairie Lights: "I had a dream that my cat and I were alphabetizing the cookbook section. And my cat turned to me and said 'In what order does the alphabet go?' and I looked at my cat, and I said 'Run!'"

The way Beachy-Quick tells jokes, explains purpose, or orders a beer is in the same tone of voice: quiet, but the kind of quiet one listens for. Listening to him read from both Circle's Apprentice and Work from Memory, (his collaboration with artist Matthew Goulish on the work of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time,) was to experience literary generosity.

Beachy-Quick's friend and fellow poet Sally Keith followed him, reading from her own poetry. Her works were of a similar curiosity. Deeply visual as well as personal, she looks upon classical myths from a heartfelt and yet distant place. Her poems featuring her mother's death beg the question: "what kind of metamorphosis is death, beautiful, or utilitarian?" and we are transported to a mind that is not elegiac, but is reflecting upon the elegy.


Sally Keith is the author of two previous collections of poetry: Design, winner of the 2000 Colorado Prize for Poetry, and Dwelling Song, winner of the University of Georgia's Contemporary Poetry Series competition.  She has an MFA in Poetry from Iowa Writers' Workshop; she teaches at George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC.

Dan Beachy-Quick is the author, most recently, of Wonderful Investigations: Essays, Meditations and Tales. David L Ulin, writing in the L.A. Times, says that "Wonderful Investigations juxtaposes four essays with three 'meditations' and four fable-like 'tales' to trace the tension between mind and body, between our inner and our outer lives. A poet, (Beachy-Quick) is terrific with an image and relies on antecedents here from Plato to Thoreau to give his work a context and a depth." And, Susan Salter Reynolds says, "This is a book about reading. It offers the kinds of insights into the act that most of us never stop to indulge in, and for that we are eternally grateful."  He has also collaborated with the poet Srikanth Reddy on Conversities. He has another work of prose—essays, meditation, and tales— A Whaler's Dictionary. His work has been supported by the Lannan Foundation. He has an MFA in Poetry from The Iowa Writers' Workshop where he has also been a visiting professor. He teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Colorado State University.