A Book Review
Iron Man Family Outing : Poems About Transition Into A More Conscious Manhood
by Rick Beldon
Creativity often means taking a courageous journey into dark places of painful emotions and memories. It’s not an easy path to take, but for those who do, they return from the depths with vital messages about loss, neglect and hope often hard to articulate, but so needed to be spoken. Rick is a brave traveler who dives into the darker realms of life’s hardship, returning to share rare gems of truth that offer a sort of relief for men harboring a lifetime of pain and emotions hiding in dark corners.
Rick Belden is a respected explorer and chronicler of the psychology and inner lives of men. Rick has been writing for most of his life and exploring the use of creative expression, dreamwork, personal mythology, and listening to the body as tools for self-healing since 1989. His book, Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood, is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems.
In addition to his ongoing activities as a writer, Rick has been working in the information technology field for over 25 years as a software engineer/designer/developer, systems analyst, business analyst, and consultant for numerous organizations in both the public and private sector. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Rick’s book has been available for a while, but it impressed me so much, I didn’t want to see it get lost in the Internet world — so I’m sharing it with you. It’s also a good introduction to his new work, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within which I hope to finish soon.
Review: Iron Man, A Family Outing
Many boys growing up in abusive and dysfunctional homes create protective shields around their tender and vulnerable bodies, emotions and souls. They grow into men shielded by false personas, protective masks, or bury themselves in alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography and failed relationships. For many, the process of reclaiming the traumatized boy, grabbing his small hand and pulling him through subsequent car wreckages of his life to the surface, takes tremendous courage, support, years and skill. Rick Belden does so through the writing of raw, poignant and bold poems in this deep and poignant series of poems: Iron Man Family Outing, Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood.
The title of the book originates from images and dreams of his childhood super comic book hero, Iron Man, “who wears a protective suit of armor with an electrically powered chest plate that keeps his damaged heart beating”. Children are uncanny in their ability to create fantasy friends in order to escape the madness of dysfunctional homes and distant or abusive parents. Iron Man is a familiar image of a stereotypical masculinity that Rick Belden succeeds to confront in his powerfully descriptive book, and emotional and rocky journey through the terrain of his boyhood and broken manhood.
Iron Man Family Outing delves behind closed doors where vivid shards of memories are shattered like glass across the landscape of his life. Here we enter into the tender feelings of an innocent boy who yearns for his distant and emotionally abusive daddy to love him, and growing into a tattered man still yearning for this love.
I love him.
I need him.
I hate him.
I miss him.
These conflicted feelings easily turn into a battleground within.
“there’s a civil war inside me,
father against son,
son against father,
blood on the family tree”.
Yet, a rare and fond memory emerges in another poem of his father making paper mache penguins with him for a school project. When he gives these to his mother for safekeeping and she later throws them away, his painful yearning bursts forth.
“I never saw them again,
I don’t even have a picture
Except the blurry one in my head
I sure wish she had let me say goodbye to them..”
By going back into the cellars of his childhood memories, we find buckets full of tears and brilliant descriptions of basic childish needs– a little boy who ached so much to be loved that he hung to the crumbs of his father’s attention as if they were rare gems.
What’s the half-life of a lousy childhood?
Stranglehold tentacles come out of a
house where nobody
I know lives anymore”
Iron Man reminds us that truth is never clean, white and glowing. Loneliness, fear, rage, hate, desire, pain release, messed up relationships loom. Often truth is sad, aching, ugly, messy, gross, disturbing, and dark sometimes with evil lurking, with little boys hiding in musty, smelly cellars of confusing emotions, and men turning toward the raunchy. Rick doesn’t spare us. And this is what makes his poetry most compelling. Yet, this raw truth also weaves through dark alleys of recovery to streets where men can reclaim their voices. Yes, in Rick’s poems go to the empty depths where a soul cries from hell for a glimpse of sanity, yet the expression of his words are the life rafts he holds onto. I hung on with him, knowing raw descriptions ravaging through the junk yard of his life, would finally get him through to an island in his soul where perhaps he might find the little innocent boy he once was, or become a new creation.
Iron Man has glimpses reminiscent of the beat poetry with its uncensored, non-conformist expression and writing.
What author and poet John Clellon Holmes once said about beat poetry, Rick’s writing fits his description:
“It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being dramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself.”
Like the beat poets of earlier generations, Rick is unabashed in his escapades into the dark world of sexuality, pornography, drinking and raw emotion, and unashamed to admit these were realities of his life and perhaps part of what made him who he is today. He takes us through the dark and detailed streets of this distorted manhood where sex drinking and drugs come alive like a R and even X rated movies, but seems to leave each poem with a stale sadness and emptiness all to familiar to so many men in our communities and families. The self-awareness of the emptiness in these escapades is in itself a signpost to self-transformation.
It’s clear he’s not writing about these dark issues to entertain, exploit, or shock. He’s writing them because they were products of a being unloved in a twisted dysfunctional childhood, and he’s writing to bring them into consciousness; the writing itself the process that put pieces of himself back together again. His poetry feels like dysfunction leaving his body, setting free a young boy from the Iron Man. Therefore, in this sense, some of his writing shouldn’t be shocking. Someone needs to tell the truth, and Rick does, as well as giving other men permission to have a voice. His poems speak the stories of millions of men, and are a tightrope between his own personal world and the dark shadow of our masculine culture.
Rick’s book is a refreshing reminder that creativity is a healing force that sometimes requires going into these hard places, telling our secrets, and giving the broken child and human being within us a voice. In turn, this kind of expression reshapes many into more whole and healthy individuals. As the title says, this book is A Transition to a More Conscious Manhood. Rick can inspire us to look more truthfully at our own dark cob webbed corners of our own lives.
I did what the man suggested
I went deep into the wound
I hitched a ride on pain express
Through the tunnels in my chest
Into that hairy heart of darkness
and everyone’s yapping about it
and I lived to tell about it.
Moreover, light does indeed shine through as the poetry loosening the hold on his soul, allowing the mask of the Iron Man to fall.
“When I breathe I feel
the screws in my chest beginning to loose
+ the life I’ve know for so long
coming to an end.”
And somehow, in another poem his world opens wide.
“I lay down my axes
and let go the clouds.
I dance with the wind
and sing with the rain.”
In a touching poem, the innocent boy behind the Iron Man emerges:
“I wait for tears to come gently
like soft spring rain
tears that will fall like diamonds
from the syky
wise little pearls.
Here’s ssome video clips of him reading his poems. I hope you appreciate the depth and breadth of his work!