Review of Ben Spivey's BLACK GOD

Ben Spivey. Blue Square Press, $12 paperback (128p) ISBN 978-0984706341

Ben Spivey’s Black God is a pretty book. Great moody art by Eric Amling on the cover. It’s a thick 128 pages but spaced well, the kind of book I look forward to picking up.

Spivey’s sentence structure is uncomplicated but enhanced by a wonderful “poetry logic” in which lines make perfect sense on their own but are adjacent to conflicting or surreal sentences.

Example: “Questions like, Am I to only watch the sunrise from the sidewalk? She said: Report all light from all angles.” (43)

There is a plot here but not one with the traditional three act structure. It’s ostensibly about Cooper O’Rourke and his sickly wife in an almost Erasehead Lynchian domestic dynamic. The routine elements of their household life are injected by dreamy existential dread, blood, and slime. At times, the gore felt taxing, plopped in almost as a reminder instead of a developed element.

Dependence is a central issue. O’Rourke’s wife is all over this book. She seems nice but a lot like an object. I have no doubt Spivey can write female characters.  Spivey’s objectification is untraditional and intentional. O’Rourke’s wife is presented as a weight to him because of her illness. She is homebound. She is constantly fatigued.

“She turned towards me. Here I am, she said. I didn’t ask where. There was no point. We continued together for I had been swallowed.”  (74)

It is the confinement of both characters that makes the first two sections so circular and plodding. O’Rourke is trapped in the house. He is a husband and caretaker before all else with no occupation, friends, or social life to speak of. He is a man isolated in illness, his wife’s, and the occasional bouts where his eyes and ears bleed.

Black God starts to take off in the third section. Here, Spivey uses more active language. There is a sense of movement and reckoning.

“I felt an urgency to reach the ocean. An urgency that I’d not felt since the first time I saw the waves as a child. It beckoned me.” (92)

Where Black God feels most potent is in the faith angle. O’Rourke’s ardent pleas are felt clearly but so is his sense of uncertainty. Prayer and effort are made to a god he doesn’t believe in, or, more accurately, a black god he doesn’t like. Throughout moments of doubt there is some really beautiful religious iconography. But it’s not a Thomas Kinkade painting. There are storms. It’s before the bursts of light and Jesus calming the water. Black God truly captures the despair before redemption.

“The moon tuned oh God join the chorus, join the song. I’ll pray and praise in this house. I’ll pray and praise, pray oh ocean, oh moon, old crow.” (125-26)

(December 2012)

Purchase Black God HERE.

Reviewer bio: Wyatt Sparks lives in Chicago. Some of his other reviews have been featured in Banango Street and Htmlgiant.