Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sirens of the Sea

Born in 1680
(No one can say for sure),
Possibly in Bristol, England,
Early life, obscure,
Teach heard them calling longingly--
The sirens of the sea.
Obsessed, he navigated west,
His landfall? Destiny.
--from J. Patrick Lewis' Blackbeard The Pirate King
Who knows? Maybe there's a bit of the pirate in every writer, each of us drawn by the sirens of our imagination, obsessed with the music that we hear as we seek our stories in the same way that Edward Teach, sailing beneath the pirate's black flag, sought his destiny as Blackbeard the Pirate King.

Even if you already know the story of Blackbeard, who returns to life in all his trembling and fearsome glory in Blackbeard The Pirate King, J. Patrick Lewis' remarkable account of his life, you'll relish the chance to sail with Lewis as he captains this sturdy ship of verse through the stormy seas of Blackbeard's many voyages.

In poems that ripple with strength and grace, carrying readers forward into unknown and sometimes dangerous waters in much the same way a ship might carry its wary passengers to a distant destination, Lewis holds readers fast on deck in these twelve poems that rock with the rhythm of the sea, plunging and rising with the force of a gifted poet.

From the opening lines of this book (which was nominated for a 2006 Cybils Award), readers will sense that they're in the hands of a master craftsman:
Down Caribbean shipping lanes,
Where buccaneers held court,
The pistol blade,
And cannon made
Their treachery blood sport.
Lewis ends the first poem with a forceful gusto that makes a reader feel as if he's standing on deck along with the rest of the pirate crew, salt spray stinging his eyes, cheering on the infamous captain:
But of all the thieves of the Seven Seas,
No one would ever reach
The height and might
Of the roguish Knight
Of the Black Flag, Edward Teach.
Along with each of the dozen poems that comprise this book are equally dramatic paintings--The Duel on the Beach by N.C. Wyeth, for instance--which draw the reader into the story, heightening the reader's sense of adventure and, at times, danger.

Lewis also includes notes with the poems that offer brief historical perspectives, aiding readers unfamiliar with the history of piracy in the 1700's or who might be interested in learning more details about Blackbeard's life than the poems themselves can provide.

And at the end of the book Lewis provides a helpful time-line extending from Teach's birth in 1680 to his death in 1718, as well as a note about the sources that he relied on to develop and flesh out the poems.

"If oceans could speak," writes Lewis, "what deep secrets the Atlantic would tell of grand voyages of discovery, famous naval battles, the last desperate hours of sea-tossed sailors, and not least, the age of piracy, cutlass, and cannon, when villainy ruled the waves."

With Lewis as our guide across the vast sea of history, we can imagine a little more clearly the mystery of Blackbeard and his life.

Perhaps that's because, as Lewis suggests, "...the mystery of Blackbeard lies not at the bottom of a shallow bay but deep in the mind of anyone who muses on the Pirate King."

Lewis talks about the genesis of Blackbeard the Pirate King with Cynthia Leitich Smith in this interview:

For more information about J. Patrick Lewis, visit his website at:


Jack said...

I'm ready to sign on for a voyage through Lewis' poems of Blackbeard, Bruce. It was a pleasure to use the links you provided for Cynthia's interview of the author, and the author's webpage. I've learned a lot about various authors and their books from your links.

Elaine Magliaro said...


What a lovely review of a fine book of poetry. I agree that the illustrations are as dramatic as the text. They really complement the poems in BLACKBEARD.

Becky said...

Great review for a great book, Bruce!

I've linked here,

because I'd love to see it get into more hands...

Barbara W. Klaser said...

What a nice review. I have a somewhat related link to share that I found just the other day by way of the Perceval Press website. It's for 826 Valencia, a writing workshop and turoring resource for kids in San Francisco. I'm way down south of there, and I've never seen it, but it looks like something every city and town should have:

They have a Pirate Supply Store next door to help support their efforts:

Looks like loads of fun!