A review of Therapon by Dan Beachy-Quick and Bruce Bond

Reviewed by Michael Kleiza

by Dan Beachy-Quick and Bruce Bond<
Tupelo Press
December 2023, 46 pages, ISBN-13978-1-946482-99-0, Paperback

In the poetry of Therapon, a collaboration by poets Dan Beachy-Quick and Bruce Bond, the reader is taken into a world of prehistoric art, spirituality and self, as well as reminiscences by the poets. Structurally, the book, divided into three parts, is set up so that the poets present their poems of thirteen lines in sequence. That is, one poet posts a poem then the other responds in kind so that themes are expanded on by each of them. The poets use the words and thoughts of each other. They riff off words, phrases and lines creating new images thoughts, ideas that explore the making of language and knowledge. 

Therapon is from the Hellenes or ancient Greek θεράπων. It means a servant, attendant, minister; someone like a friend serving in a tender, noble way.   

There is an affinity to philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ theory of the “Other” in the poems. In fact, a quote from Levinas’ Totality and Infinity at the beginning of Therapon sets out the spirit that the poets desire to reflect: “Language is not enacted within the consciousness; it comes to me from the Other and reverberates by putting it in question”. Simply put, the Other are the faces of the persons that we encounter in our daily lives.

First there were cave paintings. This is where the poets begin, with the assumption that language is in its infancy but being created. Where the images on a wall, mirror the shadow of the Other: a long-dead face that is implied through paintings of bison and horses, and a hand traced upon a wall: “Against the mind-wall, the mirror-mind / there the herd of shadows grazes still”. Are the shadows named or unnamed? Has language begun?

One is the Other while the Other is one. Language, and therefore, knowledge starts with naming the unnamed: “…knowledge / is what that is called, among the slaughtered herds, you, / your hand’s silhouette…”. 

In poem 2:, one of the poet’s first memories: “…is a meadow / like this a beast in a window that has no other side”. Only when he acquired language it seems, did he have the words to describe it. Before learning language, they were images, shadows, unworded memories placed in his head …unnamed. As the poet writes, “…I was no one”, possibly meaning that he, in his infancy, is without language and thus without the knowledge at that point in his young life to understand what he saw. The poet goes on “… and then my shadow / followed   names, names they fell into the mouths / of those I loved   bird, bison”. It is only clear to him when he learns words from the Other that he begins, literally to install the word “meadow” into his brain. Steven Pinker in his book The Stuff of Thought (Viking Press 2007) mentions a similar experience. He notes as a face-to-face with the Other: “Certainly a word meaning depends on something inside the head. The other day I came across the word sidereal and had to ask a literate companion what it meant. … Something in my brain must have changed at that moment I learned the word … The meaning of the word, then, seems to consist of information stored in the heads of the people who know the word: the elementary concepts that define it and, for a concrete word, an image of what it refers to.” In one of the poems naming something shows the incredible power it gives humans. “I named a mirror and it turned into a wall I / named a beast and in that moment a herd arrived”.

As the poets write back and forth, trading poems, the scenes change. References to some of the other’s poem are re-imagined and reworked so that there is a mirroring of sorts in the poems; this is using the Other for names (words) or as stated above, a face-to-face interaction happens.

In Part II of Therapon, in the first poem, a theory is put forth, that when the wordless child, or the “…I was no one”, becomes cognizant of language, he loses a certain magic in his observations: “The discovery that one exists    is to the child / called the Fall of Man …” In other words, the discovery of self begins the child’s fall, where logic becomes the order of the day and the wonders of childhood devolve into a world of cycles and systems and rational thought. 

Also, sometimes in the poems of Part II, the lines used build in a sequence as in Part I, but some of the poems move in another direction. In these poems the discussions back and forth feel more about the experience of learning and the use of language, again, in keeping with the fall of man, where, if I may paraphrase an old biblical saw: the apple of knowledge reveals the reality of the situation, as in: “The emptiness that wasn’t there now is there, / Soul’s primer, the letter aleph, solitary / Teacher who makes no sound, love and be / Silent, is the lesson, or is the lonely student / The letter bet”.

In Part III of the collection, the final part, the poems of the two authors seem to be more connected. In fact, the last line of one poem and the first line of the next poem end and begin with an ellipsis throughout the set of poems indicating a more continuous image or thought: “Put flags behind the veteran stones. Not one… / …flag but half a dozen   of one nation   so singular”. As well, there is more of a story and intimacy in the make-up of the poems. One poet recalls his youth: “A boy I spent summers roaming the woods / My ancestors roamed, above the fallen-down / Mill now the local swim-hole, a waterfall / You could dive underneath and breathe in”. The other poet tells of an intimate detail: “my wife was a beaten child   in her sleep she cries out still   you / are safe I say and if she hears we are none the wiser / the story of the story ends”.

Throughout this masterful book of collaborative poetry, the theme of Otherness is explored, whether through naming the nameless or gathering and disseminating the knowledge that the naming gives us.

About the reviewer: Michael Kleiza was born in Montreal, and now lives in Guelph with his partner Susan Kelly. Michael’s poems have been published in various anthologies and magazines. His poem “Remembrance Song” was chosen as a finalist for the William Collins Canadian Poetry Prize presented by Descant magazine.