Journal of Writing & Environment

Book Review: Kings of the F**king Sea

Poems by Dan Boehl

Images by Jonathan Marshall

Birds, LLC $18

Reviewed by Ana Hurtado

Kings of the F**king Sea is an adventure; it is visual art, poetry, and prose. The protagonist, an unnamed American man, enlists as the new crewmember of Kings of the F**king Sea, a pirate ship, and his poems are his preferred method of communication; they are uncanny and extraordinary. Dan Boehl, the author, and Jonathan Marshall, the artist, interweaved English, French, and Latin into a curated literary phenomenon. Through text and images, Kings of the F**king Sea playfully analyzes the roles of pirates in our contemporary world. Aside from poetry, the scattered bits of prose across this book create context. The art portfolio found in the middle of the book acts like gallery show, visually interpreting the book’s themes. As a whole, the book acts like an ongoing reflection of the effects of popular culture and global issues, such as Spiderman films and human trafficking, on what could be interpreted as a dystopian universe. Here are five reasons why I could not put this poetry/art book down:

PIRATES WITHOUT EYEPATCHES: The Kings of the F**king Sea crewmembers are not traditional pirates. They are artists; they paint, they grow their hair and beards, and they blur the lines between intelligence and lunacy. While exploring the world’s oceans and fighting arch enemy ships, these pirates bond with each other, confessing secrets, sharing illusions, and comparing disillusions; these pirates become jealous of each other, maniacs free at sea, fearful creatures, destructive elements of human nature trapped between waves and salt.

THE MONSTER MEGAMOUTH AND ITS NICKNAME:“RUN TO YER GRAVE” “Megamouth” is one of the bits of prose scattered across Kings of the F**king Sea. These fragments act like diary entries in the journal of the man who volunteered to be a contemporary pirate. This particular fragment of prose features the narrator’s understanding of the ship’s captain, Jack Spice, and Spice’s fear of mythic forces. The following excerpt summarizes the key aspect of this passage: “The Atlantic isn’t a road, and the Hudson isn’t a byway. It’s not about the surface, or road, or the journey. It’s about not getting caught in Megamouth, whose breath is the afterbirth of the ocean, the place where man is severed from god.”

YOUR HEART WILL DIE: I become emotionally compromised when I read the ship’s gunner, Mitchie Gitau, and his passage, “(Gitau)Early Sunday Morning”. Mitchie Gitau is a victim of the future, a survivor of a war, suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. The crew’s newest addition, the protagonist, finds comfort in retelling the gunner’s history: “… he’ll tell me his face was scarred by a faulty grenade, which also happens to be the way he was finally freed. He’s killed a lot of people, but he won’t say this. Rather, it’s a shame he wears on him like a Venetian blind, it depends on the time of day how dark he makes it.” Wow.

ART AS A POEM: The visual components of Kings of the F**king Sea do not interrupt the book’s narrative. The works of art add layers to the explored themes and foreshadow the prose and poetry ahead. The drawing “Amputated Legs”, 2010, graphite on paper, features severed human legs and feet piled on top of each other. Smudged lines delineate the legs and feet; the hues of grey and tones of orange drip from the drawing paper, mimicking the wetness of watercolor and dripping down like rain.

MARK ROTHKO IS A PIRATE: Throughout Kings of the F**king Sea, Boehl alludes to important historical figures of the art world. For instance, the “Cobra Sombrero”’s captain is named Mark Rothko. Both Mark Rothko and the King’s of the F**king Sea’s first mate, Robert Motherwell, are American artists who contributed to the Color Field movement, dating back to the 1940’s through the 1950’s. J. John’s, the shipwright, could be a reference to Jasper Johns, another well-known American painter; his work during the Neo-Dada period is transforming and exceptional.

Favorite lines: “So maybe I have to lie/ to tell the truth/ like how we don’t need treasure/ we want what treasure represents.” These lines belong to the poem “Ship(Enlisting)”; the poem explains the unnamed American man’s psyche and reflects on his decision to join the Kings of the F**king Sea pirate ship.