By Victor D. Infante
I was thinking about asking someone to write an essay about Joseph Campbell, and then I thought of Richard Beban. And then I caught my breath. I’m not used to the idea that my longtime friend and colleague is gone, died after wrestling with illness in Paris. To tell the truth, I’m not even sure why he came to mind at that instance, save that we discussed The Hero’s Journey once, around 2010 or so. The mind is a strange place. Sometimes it seeks to fill absence with whatever eclectica it can find.
I first met Richard sometime in the mid-’90s, when he was one of the organizers of the Hyperpoets series at Hyperdisc Records in Venice, California. Hyperpoets – which later moved to the Rose Cafe – was a poetry reading which set out to both present excellent work and to be accessible. It brought together a lot of the best poets in the region, but it managed to sidestep the trademark academic reading stuffiness. It was a reading I enjoyed, although I didn’t get there as often as I’d liked.
Nostalgia and the melancholy that comes with old friends dying sends me to my wife’s and my chapbook collection, where I find Richard’s 1999 Inevitable Press chapbook, I Burn For You, and I’m struck again with how beautiful his writing could be, how spare and delicate, yet evocative. I’m drawn to his poem, What The Heart Weighs (In The Catacombs, Paris, 1997), where he writes, “In French, earthquake is tremblement/de terre. Our “terror” comes/from the Greek, to tremble./Those terrors that shake us/from sleep are the worst. We were so safe,/slept like Medea’s children. Innocent/in dreams, we wake to her betrayal,/her truth: we are only fragile bones.” I’ve often envied the intelligence behind his poems, but more, how he managed to not let the clear intellect and classical allusions numb the poem’s emotional impact. He was a writer who wrote with his heart, and then edited with his brain, and the result was excellent craftsmanship.
Richard was, near the bottom of his long list of accomplishments, one of the poetry editors for The November 3rd Club (the precursor to Radius), and alongside co-editor Ray McNiece he was tasked with poring over a mountain of submissions of political poems each week, and if you are familiar with the state of most political poems, you know that’s a thankless job. I paired Richard and Ray together because they were somewhat opposites, Richard a bit of an academic, Ray a slam poet … I hoped something interesting would emerge in the synthesis, and I think it did. I found I soon eagerly awaited their final verdict on the submissions, not only because they picked such interesting pieces, but because Richard’s notes were often hilarious. Alas, all of those seem lost to the digital gods, but they made sledging through so much dreck to find real gold a joy, and that’s no small accomplishment.
In a lot of ways, it was odd that he was even interested in that poetry editor job, as he never really considered himself a political writer. Certainly, he had a political perspective, but it wasn’t often an explicit subject in his writing. That said, he took real pleasure in finding well-crafted political poems, the kind which could really make an impact on someone. I trusted his eye unreservedly. He also took particular pride in those instances where we were someone’s first publication, and really, as much as I valued his sense of taste, it was that desire to find new voices, to share a discovery, that impressed me the most. I saw it in the Hyperpoets series, and I saw it as we discussed Nov3rd submissions. Above all else, he wanted good writing to be shared.
I’ve not yet adjusted to the idea that he’s gone. We’d not really been in direct communication for a while, save through Facebook, and you know how surface level that can be. Still, it feels wrong that he’s not out there, somewhere. That’s a feeling I’ve had many times before, and it always takes me by surprise, this stubborn disbelief. It never gets easier.
Richard Beban had a sometimes caustic wit and a good heart. He was a great writer and photographer. He had impeccable taste save for a love of Starship’s, We Built This City, which proves no one’s perfect. He’s terribly, terribly missed. His absence is un tremblement de terre, one that shakes me from my sleep.
Victor D. Infante is the editor-in-chief of Radius, and was the editor-in-chief of The November 3rd Club.