To collect poems is to gather, to hold in one’s arms, to round up and then bundle, to band together. Poets take absolute care to devise the correct order of these collections, the right inclusions, the best exclusions, but it is still, at its core, in the end, collected contents. Dan Boehl’s Kings of the F**king Sea is, however, much more than this simple banding of poems.
The complexity of Kings of the F**king Sea is difficult to describe, but it is surely not just a collection of poems. Boehl has created here, in this book, a thematically linked physical and emotional landscape that expands as it contracts, moving out with new styles but inward with its focus. It is not enough to say that this book is about pirates, about open waters, about the sea and those rogue people who live on it. It is likewise not enough to say that these poems are good, or that their language is well-tuned and poetically wondrous, even though they are, and it is. There is in fact much that I can’t say about the incredible nature of Boehl’s work, unless I quote his words:
Map(of the New World)
Remember how smoke
issued from the stacks
like the dreams of factories
when factories were the dreams of cities
and cities were the dreams
of our immigrant parents?
There are no factories. The city
rises in a cacophony of billboards
dreamt for us
like factories and the steam
of our orphaned language.
Or is there
I dream of the sea
like a map of the new world
like the whale’s wholeness
in the water
a lung in the wilderness dreaming
of what down there?
The unimaginable. Picture
the city from the harbor.
There is no city. There is no whale.
Throughout all of Kings of the F**king Sea Boehl is mixing varied brands and styles of poetry but all with the overarching theme of sea-fare buccaneering. And while to some this may seem a turn-off, I cannot stress how Boehl’s work is always unexpected and never to be underestimated, so to say it is thematically linked is only the closest label we can fit about its chameleon’s skin. Kings of the F**king Sea is not just about pirates or waves or women but about the boundlessness of poetry itself:
The sea shouldn’t be
Oh, but it is.
Oh, but it is.
The gunner pointed
to a ship on the horizon
as the sun moved through the clouds
lighting the vessel up for us.
the Cobra Sombrero standard
hanging limp over the deck.
It took an hour to cut the lock
from the hold
and the stench came out stillbirth
rice liquor and fried meat.
The inside was filled with Chinese
cooked to death. And in the pile
a woman still alive
a couple of wolves working the darkness.
have seen the darkest version
of this world.
I was a lamb.
by Matt Micheli
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