Theophobia is the latest volume in Bruce Beasley’s ongoing spiritual meditation which forms a kind of postmodern devotional poetry in a reinvention of the tradition of John Donne, George Herbert, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and T. S. Eliot. Theophobia is structured around a series of poems called “Pilgrim’s Deviations” and forms a deviant and deviating pilgrimage through science, history, politics, and popular culture. Beasley seeks the Biblical Kingdom of God among Dolly the cloned sheep, the wonders and horrors of extremophilic creatures living in astonishing intensities of temperature, robotic phone operators, and Wikipedia’s explanation of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit.
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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. Beasley announces early on his intent to use all his vocabulary as he investigates theology: “The xenotransplantation/ of the vatic/ into the vernacular/ has been halted pending further/ investigation. All’s/ serio-burlesque and subcelestial.” 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: “Cytonaut,// oracle supplicant, read/ us & read us again.” One long work describes strange creatures, called “extremophiles,” who thrive in the hottest or deepest places on earth, “living filaments that fur the worm’s back and feed/ off sugared mucus.” Another page asks after the origin of death and the meanings of sacrifice– “the knives are at my fatlings’ throats.” 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. (Oct.)
—Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Theophobia (excessive fear of God) is a fascinating project in its cosmological focus (where metaphysics and science meet the postmodern dread of belief) and strikingly contemporary metaphors of consciousness and gnosis (‘speak in me/ through the X of Lexapro, its/ self-cancellable crux:/ tell me about light-from-light, serotonin-/ from synaptic-cleft,/ tell something about a long/ half life . . .’). The God puzzle is teased out in the characteristic richness and deep wit of Beasley’s phrasing: the difference between God and his poet-petitioner is that ‘between the sound of the g in God and the one in naught.’ Like poetry and fate, God speaks oracles, codes, and puzzling actualities (‘I am that I am’) and prefers the zig-zag path. It’s therefore appropriate that one of the book’s dedications is from Proverbs 1:7 (‘The dread of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’). Because it suggests the possibility of the One, this book goes against the anti-theological thinking of our time: ‘There’s One who fractures off from light/ as light, I know/ and One (is that One You?) eternally begotten, so never not at just that instant being born.’ This is a beautiful and necessary work for those who are that they are.”
“An aura of the mystical has (to my ear) always hovered over certain aspects of the postmodern (and likewise over modernism) wherein any simple relation between the signifier and the signified has been systematically breached, and language has been honed to an unprecedented incisiveness aimed at inscribing surfaces beyond language and beyond the mind—an exercise in absurdity when it is not a form of prayer. Bruce Beasley’sTheophobia is that rare (impossible?) thing: a prayer in the language of the illegible, wherein, ‘As a kid I always thought it went / Our Father which aren’t / in heaven, and sat / staring at His stained-glass throne, wondering / where instead He were.’”
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Judith Kitchen, Georgia Review