Arts and Culture / DU Alumni / Magazine Feature

Alum’s poetry tasks readers to think about the world

book cover

DU alum Dan Beachy-Quick's newest book, "The Nest, Swift Passerine," was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award.

Like many poets, inspiration for Dan Beachy-Quick (BA English ’95) can hit at any time: while researching the 19th century in America, reading Moby Dick for the 10th time, taking a walk or watching his newborn daughter.

“What I’ve been reading often drives me to write, or just being in the world — a daily moment with my family, or seeing an image or a person when I’m out with my baby. The poems are part of my attempt to understand being in the world in an honest way.”

For the acclaimed poet and assistant professor of English at Colorado State University, writing is his attempt to express as honestly as he can his feelings and thoughts about the world. Beachy-Quick is the author of four collections of poems; the most recent, This Nest, Swift Passerine (Tupelo Press, 2009), was nominated for a 2010 Colorado Book Award.

Poetry is not important in a normal way, Beachy-Quick admits. It’s not considered popular because it’s not entertaining and it’s not an escape from your daily life; instead it does the opposite and makes you think about things that might be difficult.

“It doesn’t tie in to the functioning of life unless you choose it to,” he explains. Poetry is a deliberate choice: “It challenges you. Much of its importance is that its one of the few places left in culture that makes things difficult — it asks you to think, to perceive and not to take for granted what we think about the world.”

Beachy-Quick’s self-described addiction to reading and writing began in high school. An
“extraordinary” teacher introduced him to the emotional part of poetry, and Beachy-Quick soon knew he would pursue it in college. He started his bachelor’s degree at Hamilton College, and an instructor there taught him to take criticism. The instructor routinely read Beachy-Quick’s work, tore it apart or turned it inside out.

“It felt more like an apprenticeship in many ways,” he says.

After a year, he transferred to the University of Denver, where he was introduced to Professor Bin Ramke. Ramke quickly became Beachy-Quick’s mentor. Coincidentally, it was Ramke who beat out Beachy-Quick for the Colorado Book Award.

But it’s all OK with Beachy-Quick, who says Ramke winning was “undoubtedly the right choice.”

After all, Ramke was the one who introduced Beachy-Quick to the literary world and gave him a job at The Denver Quarterly, DU’s literary magazine.

“This was when I recognized [poetry] as a living art, and understood that people wanted to be published,” Beachy-Quick says.

Ramke, though, says Beachy-Quick never needed much help.

“I didn’t get in his way,” Ramke says. “In fact, I mean this rather seriously, that Dan had such gifts that the most enlightened teaching I could offer him was to watch and wait. He always did more work than any teacher could responsibly ask for anyway, and he was more quick to find his own weaknesses than I was, so I sort of stood aside and observed and encouraged.”

Later, Beachy-Quick had his first work published in The Paris Review (Ramke suggested it, of course).

“It was really wonderful but it still didn’t change a single thing — it taught me really early on that the only thing that really matters is writing the next poem,” Beachy-Quick says. “Publication is best seen as a happy accident.”

Still, those accidents have happened steadily over the years. He’s been published in a varied list of impressive journals and anthologies, and his essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times and The Southern Review

He’s also the author of A Whaler’s Dictionary (Milkweed Editions, 2008) a collection of essays about Moby Dick.

“It was by far the most difficult thing I’ve written,” he says. “It felt endless and difficult.” But because of that, it’s his proudest written achievement, he says.

In general, it’s all a labor of love for him.

“My effort is not to have poetry being measured by successes or accomplishments — I want to put that aside and really just do the work,” he says.

Ramke agrees with that sentiment.

“He was, and is, ambitious in the best possible sense — not ambitious to receive the world’s praise, but to do the world’s necessary work. The world does not know it needs poems any longer, but we believe it does.”

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