Written by Ellery Beck, Co-Editor
Buy Ella’s Plan by Jeffrey Bean here!
“Ella’s Plan” is best described as a potion—thrown together of everything familiar and found, everything reimagined—made in your backyard, barehanded. This chapbook, written by Jeffrey Bean and selected for publication by Naomi Shihab Nye, is as she describes it, “the ultimate alchemy of spirit.” In a reading hosted by The Poet’s Corner, Naomi and Jeffrey discuss this similarity to a childhood creation, a concoction made of outdoor finds (or possibly even kitchen chemicals). I found myself absorbed into Ella’s potion, her plan; feeling an intimacy with her due to the attentiveness with which she was created. I was transported back to the times I made backyard potions myself, filling wheelbarrows with sticks, pine needles and as much mud as I could scoop. There’s a level of care and respect put into articulating this younger point of view, and that consideration results in an intimate conversation with the audience. Jeffrey accomplishes this through the delicate, simple voice Ella carries through each piece as well as through the wondrous, imaginative imagery. These poems embody eventness—the element of the lyric that pulls you in, that asks you to participate. These poems are all consuming. It’s hard not to find yourself in Ella.
This chapbook often finds a way to articulate concepts that often feel impossible to express—as early as the first poem, Ella is observing “how light/ so alive it can stop a heart/ courses through wires/ that connect our houses together;”. We’re introduced to the innocent yet incredibly observant persona Ella continues to show us throughout the book, and as early as this poem it’s hard not to find parts of her in your own upbringing. At the end of this poem, Ella becomes a bird, and we feel her urgency to fly away, to find the quiet by the train tracks. It’s an urgency many writers feel familiar with and this intimate articulation of it is, as Naomi Shihab Nye says, “nothing short of magic.” The language, soft and almost simple, keeps you within the character, back as a child, while the observations and intricate imagery are that of an intentional, craft-minded poet.
There are many moments where the childlike wonder shifts into sobering observations regardless of age. In the poem “Truths” we are introduced to most solemn (yet most important) piece in this collection. This piece shifts to a more narrative, less imagistic voice; we’re able to not just see but also feel what Ella is experiencing. Reading this piece left me haunted by the gentlest ghost. Even as the babysitter leaves “a bruise/ the shape of a butterfly,” Ella remains “the puff of pollen in a lily” and “the sizzle of bee wings.” Even as we feel the abrupt need to float away with her, these tender images carry us slowly into sky.
It plays on the familiar, the warm memories still floating fuzzy in your head from childhood, the lullabies you halfway remember. It pulls from so many image pools, merging metaphors, collaging each distinct description together; the individual images enhancing the whole. This immense collection of imagery dialogues with itself, each image enriched with the context of the last. Naomi and Jeffrey also discussed the idea that Ella led him to some of the images and ideas that appeared in these pieces; that the creation of this collection itself was an intimate process between the artist and Ella, similar to the interactions that the audience also has her. This collection feels as if it was formed with those poet-to-reader conversations in mind, while also feeling as if Ella led us directly to some of the discussions she wants us to have with the poems and with her. Through this layered creation of Ella, she becomes each of us as a child, while at the same time existing as herself, a singular, distinct being.
Colors are such an integral part of Ella’s world, and the attention put into this physical chapbook fits so well with this collection. Purple permeates through all these poems more so than other colors, and it feels so fitting that this collection is printed on the prettiest blush pages with dark purple text, wrapped in a stunning aubergine cover with silver ink accenting it. Holding this poem, seeing the art inside of the cover, feels like entering Ella’s world. The attention to detail goes as far as placing the poems closer to the bottom of the pages, in a similar way to how a child would draw, or how a children’s book would situate the words. The designer, Richard Reitz Smith, put the same intimate attention that Jeffrey did into these words making this chapbook magical to hold. I highly recommended immersing yourself into Ella’s world, seeing where the poems carry you off to.
If you’re interested in purchasing this chapbook, go here! or Jeffrey’s website here!
If you’d like to reread Jeffrey’s poems in Beaver Mag, see them here:
Jeffrey Bean is the author of two poetry collections—Woman Putting on Pearls (2017) and Diminished Fifth (2009)—and three chapbooks, most recently Ella’s Plan, chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the 2022 Poet’s Corner/Maine Media College Chapbook Contest. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Colorado Review, Poets.org, I-70 Review, Poet Lore, and The Laurel Review, among other journals. He is Professor of English at Central Michigan University.