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Theophobia (American Poets Continuum) Paperback – September 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Beasley outdoes his five prior collections with this spiky, thoughtful, elaborate, sometimes scary, sometimes funny set of verse essays, riffs, and meditations on the idea of a Christian creator-god, and on ideas from evolutionary and molecular biology about how life comes to be… Yet it's never just play: he wants answers, from divinity or from DNA, even if he believes that he will not get them, and so his variable, friable, unbalanced verse lines can morph into prayer… Careful, sympathetic attention will produce pleasure in Beasley's collisions between curiosity and doubt, as the newest oddities of the life sciences, and the oddest words he can find, crash into dark fears and grapple with ancient questions.”

"An investigation into the physical world and what lies beyond, this book will appeal to enthusiasts of poetry and the subjects that Beasley mines." —Library Journal

"This is a book that wrestles with religious forms as well as religious notions, considering religious practice and experience in relation to current-day concerns. This includes not only the putting of lines on paper, but also waiting for customer service or meditating on the grand design of the Toxoplasma gondii lifecycle… what sets Theophobia apart—as a thick, varied, and always thoughtful exercise—is considering such a phenomena as a religious task, revealing of something essential to our understanding of God, as Augustine argued in relation to vipers and worms… Beasley casts a broad net, dredging deep in this important contemporary addition to poetic wrestling with the religious.”—Spencer Dew, Rain Taxi

"Beasley is, above all, a poet of spiritual ardor, a dyspeptic believer in the Geoffrey Hill mode ... Writing of Donne in a recent essay, Hill insists that for a certain breed of poet, style is faith, and Beasley may well be such a writer. His many allusions to the mystical esoteric – Meister Eckart, Julian of Norwich, the Gnostic gospels, and the Corpus Hermeticim (not to mention plain old Bible verse) – are evidence not merely of Beasley’s learnedness, but also of his belief in the poem as a kind of heterodox spiritual exercise. He is a postmodern descendant of Herbert, Traherne, and Vaughn … there are few contemporary poets who can keep such august company … Like Robert Duncan, who was also powerfully drawn to Gnostic and Hermetic thought, Beasley’s reading in mysticism has, above all, animated his lyrical acuity. He draws from these traditions not merely for their substance, but also to enhance his musical chops. And when he displays those chops, the results can be majestic … a fluency and rhetorical control that no other poet of his generation can match."
–DAVID WOJAHN, The Kenyon Review

In Theophobia, one of Image's Top Ten of 2012, "the poet’s belief and doubt are deconstructed and then uncertainly rebuilt. In his restless search for (and fear of) God, he combines the ambiguity of postmodernism, the precision of science, and the theology of mysticism into sprawling poems that add surprising twists to our images of divinity...For Beasley, language itself becomes a metaphor for the Incarnation; the joining of divinity with humanity is as messy, oblique, and mysterious as the relationship between a word and its meaning… You might be reaching for the dictionary more than once with this book, but trust us: this doesn’t lessen its delight in the least.” --Image

“The poems succeed because this juxtaposition does indeed startle us toward fresh insights. Readers are presented with a mind thinking, a particularly energetic mind, one that enjoys the task. And despite my own initial hesitations, I found the poems ultimately hospitable … I’m envious of Beasley’s agility in this book. The poems consolidate the mind with the spirit, the ordinary with the extreme, possibility with impossibility.” -Lynn Domina, poet

“The poems in Theophobia register the secular doubts of our time. They reverberate with the language we hear even as they dismember it. If they refuse to ‘ring’ in ways whose loss we sometimes lament, they may be introducing the ear to other, newer rhythms. Bruce Beasley is one of a kind, and the inquisitive inventiveness of Theophobia assures that poetry will continue to learn by going where it has to go.” -The Georgia Review

“These poems are difficult, their gnarled syntaxes and encyclopedic vocabularies demand from us that we be at our best as readers, that we muster something of ourselves to overcome the terror of our current predicament. And that rewarding difficulty is precisely what makes this book necessary—it demands that we participate in its project of imagining how to be resilient, how to be larger.” -Poetry Northwest

"Here are poems that carry me along when I can’t keep up, and which pull me close in moments of frightening intimacy. Here are uncomfortable poems that feel as familiar as my own doubting mind. Here is beauty marred with hectic pace that reminds me of the churnings of my own soul. Here is a poetry deeply rewarding to those of us who, like Beasley, wrestle with the metaphysical implications of our world and our lives in it." -Luke Hankins, 32 Poems

About the Author

Bruce Beasley is the author of six collections of poems, most recently The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems (University of Washington Press, 2007). His previous collection, Lord Brain, an extended meditation on neuroscience, cosmology, theology, and language, won the University of Georgia Press’ Contemporary Poetry Series Award and was published in 2005. Beasley won the 1996 Colorado Prize for Poetry in 1996 for Summer Mystagogia, selected by Charles Wright, and the 1994 Ohio State University Press/Journal Award for The Creation. Wesleyan University Press published his books Spirituals (1988) and Signs and Abominations (2000). He has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Artist Trust of Washington and three Pushcart Prizes in poetry. His work also appears in The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best Poems from the First Thirty Years of the Pushcart Prize, as well as other anthologies including Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetries; Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets; Under the Rock Umbrella: Contemporary Poets from 1951-1977; and American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets. His poems appear widely in such journals as The Kenyon Review, Southern Review, New American Writing, Field, and Virginia Quarterly Review.


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Product Details

  • Series: American Poets Continuum (Book 136)
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: BOA Editions Ltd.; 1st edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934414913
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934414910
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 7.8 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,114,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jon Corelis on January 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
Contemporary academic establishment poetry can be regarded as an entrepreneurial activity. As with any business field, there are basically two ways to attempt success: you can either try to do what everyone else is doing, but better, or you can try to market something new that no one else is marketing. A book like this takes the latter approach: the author, departing largely (though not entirely) from the virtually mandatory academic confessional poetic mode, has concocted a verse style based on a bricolage of state-of-the-art scientific terminology, arcane (to most people) theological vocabulary, and trendy modern slang and internet references, using it to create an author-less snake-swallowing-its-own-tail free-play closed system linguistic structure which is, to me at least, as impenetrable as the post-modern literary criticism which has so often been the target of parody.

Much of the result is not so innovative as that description may imply: we see here still the standard tool kit of creative writing workshop gimmicks: "&" for "and" to give a veneer of spontaneity, a liberal sprinkling of italics to tap the reader's lapel, arch line breaks, and extra blank spaces thrown into the middle of lines for no easily discernible reason.

A quote from the back cover blurb, offered apparently as something which will make people want to read the book, gives a fair sample of what to expect: "speak in me / through the X of Lexapro / its self-cancellable crux: / tell me about light-from-light, serotonin- / from synaptic-cleft ..." I know what Lexapro is, so I can tell that these lines must be some sort of Ode to a Happy-Pill, but that's about all I can tell about them. Anyway, if you like that quote, you'll like the book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Carol Guess on January 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
Here's Google as oracle; here's Wikipedia as scripture. Here's Christian iconography intertwined with Greek mythology and modern, monstrous biology. Here are poems where repetition reflects technical glitches that rise, in Bruce Beasley's elegant lines, to the pure pleasure of wordplay. In THEOPHOBIA, Beasley looks directly at unbearable losses as well as quotidian frustrations; he uses ancient narratives to illuminate contemporary secular dilemmas. Beasley's work always carries with it the adventure of intellectual exchange; he's generous with his readers, inviting us to share his joy at the sensuality and humor of language under scrutiny. Yet in this collection, there's a new level of vulnerability to the speaker's musings, a heightened emotion that simultaneously resists confessionalism. Poems that examine Beasley's relation to his son elevate adoption to a holy sacrament; poems that examine romantic and familial losses elevate betrayal to the intensity of myth. In these poems, Beasley's trademark linguistic wit turns to chants and incantations to keep the beloved close, as close as the alphabet that links beings as much as blood.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Patton on January 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is wonderful. Beasley performs lightning raids on the word hoards of genetics, quantum physics, etymology, doxology, paradoxology, heterodoxology, and maybe most jarringly, Windows XP ... plunders them for materials that decay and transmute in his hands as he rejoins them in new wholes. The result is an acoustically dense bricolage - "all these mantic / enigmas of the banal: / liturgy's polyglot / & thrice-holy hymn" - that is first for pleasure, as should be, then open to meaning, such senses as one may make of intractable mystery, and then, world without end, open further to the awe and terror that mark the approach to, or of, the sacred.

One example of the work's deep wit. A poem here in conversation with the unsayable name of God is called "Stray Apostrophes." As in, a scatter of marks, commas but elevated, marking elisions in language, approaches. Or, addresses to something fugitive, remarks themselves fugitive, made or found by accident. In a note to the poem, Beasley relates that God's self-declaration to Moses, "eyheh asher ehyeh" (untranslatable even into its Hebrew), has been rendered variously in English as "I am who am," "I am Being," or "I shall prove to be." These meanings don't sit together easily; questions fly off them like sparks, unanswerable. That's the sort of meaning these poems make - restless, dynamic, humane.

Some of the most interesting work in American poetry right now is taking place at the intersection of postmodern play (in all its seriousness) and spiritual inquiry (in all its razzle-dazzle). I'm thinking of poets like Donald Revell, Brenda Hillman, Nathaniel Mackey. This book confirms Beasley's place in that company of true workers, workers for, toward, the true.
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By Monk on November 26, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was did not like the poetry. I am poet as that be the problem. It was not understandableal at at times. I have a good understnading of Catholicism but even the terms used were hard read what it meant. I would not buy any of his poetry again but that is me.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brenda Miller on February 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
Though the word "theophobia" mean "fear of god" this compelling and complex collection by one of America's most brilliant poets turns fear into "the beginning of wisdom." While reading these poems, we are lured into a world where gas cap warnings ("Wait, the gas cap warns/me, until the hissing has stopped") exist side by side with twisted scripture ("As a kid I always thought it went/Our Father which aren't/in heaven...") These poems continually question our own small presence in a vastness composed of millions of messages that veer from one extreme to another. It's a wild ride: one that leaves you with an adrenaline glow. Buy a ticket. Try it. You won't regret it.
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