B. W. Powe’s Where Seas and Fables Meet gathers parables, aphorisms, fragments, and thoughts but collectively transcends and even defies those labels. Powe’s great gift as a writer here is not in applying a formula for drawing readers in but in displaying an openness of mind and spirit that invites readers in. When he writes in elegiac mode, as in Sad Angel, one senses at once a delicacy and tenderness that is too often missing from conventional elegies and their inevitable conclusions. Indeed, one of several possible conclusions to Sad Angel is evoked not within the text itself but in a later selection titled Monstrosities. No matter the subject, and they are very broad ranging in this collection, Powe consistently achieves exemplary balance. Skepticism about the questionable benefits of technology, of a piece with Powe’s penetrating study elsewhere of Marshall McLuhan, is set against thoughtful analysis of the positive effect – McLuhan’s key word – of student uprisings in Montreal and Quebec City: “The iBrain generation (supposedly unfocussed and self-absorbed) found focus in the cry against calcified thought.” The sheer range of Powe’s subject matter is exhilarating: Dante’s Commedia complemented by a closing passage of the book addressed in a very personal way to every reader; a selection addressed to Richard Dawkins, moving (movingly) within a few pages to “what we hope will be illuminations of the larger soul;” the coincidentia oppositorum of The Angelic and the Demonic running throughout the book; Powe in overdrive with four passages titled Wilde Things that anchor the reflections in Wilde and transport the reader by the end of the fourth into a Brechtian moment. Powe gives us guffaws in the midst of the most serious topics (Identity Crisis) and gasps of wonder at his metaphors: “The Morse Code of the heart is love.” Much of the time, he is a latter day James Joyce, reaffirming that he is here to read the signatures of all things: “The trees rustle in the wind, the trees whispering what seems to be the word ‘yes,’ The trees have letters too.” Where Seas and Fables Meet is a book that makes you hold your breath and allows you to finally let it go only with the greatest reluctance. Inspiration, literally.
W. Terrence Gordon, author, critic, McLuhan biographer, scholar