Book Review: Richard Merli reviews Gary Beck’s book of poetry Civilized Ways

For those who love poetry, there is much to recommend in the new volume, Civilized Ways, by Gary Beck (Winter Goose Publishing, 124 pages), a poet who truly wears his heart out on his sleeve. Socially speaking, Mister Beck is, above all, a man whose heart is in the right place.

The title of Mr. Beck’s book is ironic: “Uncivilized Ways” is what comes to mind, since this volume chronicles such modern day horrors as the use of child soldiers, the exploitation and murder of children, the sale of women (and children) into sexual slavery, the abuse and destruction of our environment, and the greed and corruption of the powerful in capitalist society. Much of Gary Beck’s book examines in considerable detail the social ills and evils inherent in the conflict between democratic society and capitalism.

In “Democracy,” Beck waxes philosophical on the most obvious shortcomings of American

“O wonderful democracy
that nurtures slick exploiters
who clamor for meritocracy
in a consumer-based society
that is exhausting merit.”

In “Daughters of Cambodia,” Beck recreates the haggling over the price to be paid for a woman – a child, really – sold into sexual slavery as a prostitute. In his poem, “The Cold War,” Beck takes munitions manufacturers – merchants of death – to task for their insatiable greed in profiting from America’s endless cycle of wars. In “Philosophical Ramblings,” he takes an extremely dim view of mankind:

“Man is the cruelest animal,
exceeding any creature of nature,
in torture, mayhem and destruction.”

Mr. Beck stands on less firm ground when he turns his criticism on those, such as members of The Left, who propose solutions and alternatives to the social ills and exploitations of capitalism, with which he feels so much heartfelt disgust. This is not to quibble over philosophical choices. But, as a logical corollary, one is compelled to ask: Is there no hope for mankind? Should we not at least consider the best features of alternative social and economic systems? Nevertheless, Mr. Beck hits all the right notes and challenges us to ask important, provocative questions, as in his poem. “These United States,” in which he asks with righteous anger and indignation:

“But who really owns my country?
Conglomerates, vested interests, exploiters.
Where are the decent men, the just?
Can no one stand up and say: ‘Enough!’”

Amen to that.

However, in the opinion of this writer, Gary Beck’s most eloquent, masterful writing appears in works such as “Miner’s Quest,” in which he captures beautifully the hardship, toil and, often times, life-and-death struggles of ordinary people to eke out a meager living under the most trying and dangerous of conditions:

“The miners never went to ivy-covered schools,
had no book learning, just blue-collar skill,
acquired the hard way, in the pits of shattered dreams,
where the mines sapped the souls of men
who never got used to the pressing rock above
and the dank, devouring dark below,
always waiting, implacable as time,
to catch a careless miner in a moment’s lapse,
the last summons to the final ascent.”

Civilized Ways, by Gary Beck
(Available for purchase on

–Richard Merli


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