‘On the Road to Ollantaytambo’ by Ian Beech – A Review

I’ve known Ian Beech for over three years and during that time I have seen him put in some stunning performances and read some very good poems. Indeed, I don’t think Ian has ever written a bad or a mediocre poem. Everything about his art is considered and carefully crafted for maximum effect. His performances are clear, rhythmical and often display a wonderful controlled aggression, particularly in his more ‘ranty’ poems. Beechy is always peachy.

I was lucky enough last year to get a glimpse of his new book, ‘On the Road to Ollantaytambo’, and now the thing is out for real and anyone can get their hands on it. Ian has added more poems and polished up those that were already in it, and now the thing is out there, shining brightly. A thing of beauty. With a nice cover. Hell, the book even smells good.

There’s a really satisfying mix of humour and real life, emotion and whimsy, and of course, those ‘ranty’ poems which one can only read with Ian’s voice prevalent in one’s mind. There are beautiful poems commemorating friends and loved ones, such as ‘Sally’ and ‘Rodney’ and ‘James’, the emotion and power of which come from Ian’s heartfelt empathy and absolute devotion to the power of what it is that makes us human. There are also poems which highlight significant moments in Ian’s life, autobiographical vignettes such as ‘Enchanted Evenings, Ancient Games’, and ‘Auntie Kit Kat’.

In my opinion the collection is somewhat let down by the inclusion of ‘F1’. A ranty poem concentrating on the poet’s aversion to this particular form of motor racing, it seems to resemble my own poem about Stoke City FC both in meter, rhyme and some of the imagery chosen.

The cover of the book is

(Hang on a second. Yes, I know you’re all reeling from what I just said about the ‘F1’ poem. I will let you in to a little not-so-secret secret. ‘F1’ was written after Ian saw my own Facebook posts about motor racing, (a passion of mine since a small boy), and my own Stoke City FC poem was written as a response to this. Just for future reference, Mr B, I’m a British Touring Car fan more than an F1 fan.)

The cover of the book is simple and effective, although the title doesn’t trip easily off the tongue. The photograph taken by Ian himself up some mountain somewhere resembles a piece of Renaissance art, using as it does the triangle motif favoured by such masters in order to draw the eye in certain directions, a technique also employed by Picasso in his Guernica masterpiece. The figure on the right is pointing, as if hinting that we should all be looking in that direction, at something else. Like Beechy himself, the figure on the right is telling us that if we only look, we will see life itself happening.

Ian is a man of versatility and passion and this book showcases his many talents as a performer and a poet. There will be more to come from him, doubtlessly. And as he happens to be one of my best friends not only in the poetry community, but also in the wider world too, then for me my favourite poem has to be ‘The Joy of House Sharing’, which reminds me of a particularly harrowing few weeks we spent rehearsing a show. Every time I read it I smile, not only at the humour involved, but also in the wordplay and language, and the memory of that time.

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