Spade by David Bromige and Richard Denner

Katherine Hastings

Inside that seed
is a syllable
Inside the syllable
is joy (51)

This passage from Canto 12 of Spade could easily be a description of the book itself. Although the emotions throughout the book are as varied as the voices themselves, reading Spade — tripping from one swatch of conversation to the next — is a joyous experience. “Swatch” is an appropriate word here for our eyes don’t rest long on one topic of conversation before they are moving on to some other intriguing subject. Yet put all those conversations together and you have a literary, coherent quilt of related threads that connect two seemingly different men, their thoughts, beliefs and experiences.

A much longer paper than this one could easily be written about Spade — the limitations of time and space preclude me from discussing the poets’ inclusion of everyone from Plato to Plath, Pound’s Cantos, wars — including some of the more recent on-going atrocities — and more. Instead, I offer a few of my initial personal responses to this sometimes whimsical, sometimes very serious work.
A total enjoyment of language is evident from the first page of Canto 1 when the words “spade,” “spay,” “splayed” and “played” skip down the page. This is a wonderful way to enter the book. But all is not fun and games. There are stunning moments of tension. Following the lovely passage Like moons in water/sights deceive us (86), we are immersed in a memory of sitting in a café where one customer, whose modern tool is a lap top computer, observes another who sits sharpening old razors on a whetstone. “Can I work with these razors being sharpened? “Maybe,” he concludes…“it is just his luck to sit next to a man sharpening razors.” (87) Another interesting collision comes with the observation “Neitzche was upset by a buggy whip/What would he do if a leaf blower/interrupted his silence?” (64)

There are moments of great tenderness in Spade that offer refuge from the tougher observations of modern life (“If I was an angel/I’d run out of energy/giving praise”), indictments of mankind’s failures, laugh-out-loud scenarios (“…what I don’t understand is, when I piss, it goes ‘shhhh shhhh’ in the snow, but when you piss, there is/a roar like thunder.”/“That, my friend, is because I am pissing on your overcoat,” (53) and astonishingly beautiful insights into the affection felt by these two men:

“We understood a way of being
that we shared. He was adopted,
and I was abandoned.
Then repossessed.

Something radical happened.” (153)

In short, every emotion “in the book” is, indeed, in the book. From the peaceful scene of a cat licking herself on a towel to a car accident, from walking in sea spray to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, Spade never lets up in holding our interest, propelling us to the final lines infused with wonderful, self-deprecating humor. As Denner inscribed in my copy of the book, “Welcome to…Goofy 4th Heaven.” Perhaps not so goofy after all — there is so much more to this little heaven than that.