Beautiful is the book that can contain and yet mix and spill myriad and sometimes paradoxical sources and images: Margaret Yourcenar’s “between indefatigable/ hope and the wise/ absence of hope,” Foucault’s “…what we have to rediscover through/ the whiteness and/ inertia of death isn’t/ the lost shudder of life,/ it’s the meticulous/ deployment of truth,” Nietzsche’s “That for which we find/ words is something already/ dead in our hearts,” The Zohar’s “For there is a rose,/ and then there is a rose!”, Gertrude Stein’s “I like anything/ that a word can do,” Baudelaire’s “The poet is like…/ A rider of storms.” And a Zen koan, “Life is like getting/ in a boat that is about/ to sail out to sea/ and sink.”
The quotations run down the left-hand sides of the pages, the story of the voyage on the right, riffing on the Tarot card Death, intimating continuity between life and death, throwing overboard what is no longer of use. The ship sets sail in astral waters off the lost land of Mu (no thing, the gate to enlightenment). When the ship is marooned, captain and crew see they have resisted “joy, love and laughter,” so “[t]he hope is that by mapping/the Heavens, we will discover/the Guiding Sprit to enlighten us.”
Spears knows this is a caper, so he names his characters, for instance, Cowabunga and Tarzan, and juxtaposes ancient and mythical with the contemporary hashtag and psychosphere and the absurdities of the political.
This adventure without end, this section of his dazzling long poem, is enthralling. Here is a seafarer who not only assimilates what is valuable, but groks what to do with it: play.