Kings of the F**cking Sea by Dan Boehl
Birds LLC, 2011; 101 pp
Reviewed by Robert Torres


Finally, a book about escapism that actually goes somewhere! Dan Boehl’s Kings of the F**cking Sea [sic] is playful and poignant—transcendental is all the best ways. “The book follows an imaginary character (not me), an unnamed, white American in his early thirties, who has suffered a crisis of conviction,” reads the “Prologue,” which sounds like the setup for three-fourths of books published today, but Boehl uses his verse to give elasticity to the centuries-old travelogue genre.

“Map (of the New World)” starts with smokestacks, but leads on to:

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?

Unlike so many books of poetry that just dream of things, Boehl’s narrator goes into the sea to live out his fantasies and even in his fantasies, he suffers. The second volume, “Les Miseres et les Mal-Heurs de la Guerre” is the most haunting. Inspired by etchings by Jacques Callot, these prose poems respond to the first section—so full of longing to escape—with the horror of the freedom he has escaped to.

We built our house from terror.
We built our house from fear.
The ash piled on the porches in
smooth stacks like an engineer.

So begins “Pillage et Incendie d’un Village.” You can be sure these prose-poems are crafted under the tutelage of the Lich-King the Birds, LLC, Sampson Starkweather. Each one reads like the first or last paragraph of a hideous novel, but Boehl does well to abandon clarifying the plot. He does not get hung up on justifying how a story with villains named the Cobra Sombrero also includes tales of hangmen, coked-out tampon salesmen, and the crushing loneliness of the sea.

“Storm” begins:

The planks broadcast
my body. I am a radio. I am the false god
of adulthood. There are two minds in the darkness.
One is the mind of reason
the other is the sea as a nightmare.

Kings of the F**cking Sea digs much deeper than the package suggests, folding in references to David Bowie and Spiderman 3 with existential dread and the horror of war. Rather than some half-assed metaphor, Boehl makes the pirate theme work for him as a frame to showcase our lack of gratitude for our bland lives, so mercifully devoid of gunpowder and ravenous sharks.