B.J. Best, But Our Princess is in Another Castle, Rose Metal Press, 2013
by Lisa Vihos
Some of us grew up in a time before video games. We filled our minds with “Lost in Space,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” and “Gilligan’s Island,” right? Our cultural references came from television, radio, and books (remember those?) with which we could tell a collective story. We had Grimms’ fairytales and Greek mythology. We got lost in the forest with Hansel and Gretel or donned wax wings and flew with Icarus too close to the sun.
Well, here it is, 2013, and it is time to acknowledge a new pantheon of gods, goddesses, demons, and heroes in the collective mine fields of childhood, adolescence, and by correlation, adulthood. In his latest book of prose poems, But Our Princess is in Another Castle, B.J. Best delves into the “world beneath the glass that we can never know,” and brings us a surreal tale of a life reflected in the iconography of video games.
I must state here and now that I know very little about this particular realm of cultural subtext. I did not spend hours on Saturday afternoons playing Donkey Kong, or shut out the world on the drive to the grocery store glued to my Gameboy with Mario’s fate in my hands. I have never been up until 2 a.m. eating cold pizza and playing Grand Theft Auto.
And yet. And yet. These things seep into consciousness. There is something that resonates here.
Whether the specific references complete every metaphor for you or not, the thing about this book is that it makes its own sense. There are universal things we are all trying to figure out about our lives and Best reminds us of them throughout the text:
That night, in the blankness of my bunk bed, it hit me: the only person left to fight was myself.
I didn’t know what good beer was then, but I was certain I’d never drink something called Snake Bite.
It took me thirty years to learn this: the only thing you can’t dream is sleep.
What stands out for me in this new mythology are universal dilemmas that the poet explores through metaphors like shooting, exploding, flying, falling, racing, gathering, and getting always to the next level: how we grow, how we learn, how we fall in love, how we find our place in the world. Plus, Best just has this uncanny ability to conjure marvelous images with his words:
My brain wants its caverns clean until only secrets like knickknacks line its shelves.
Maybe I’d like to be a helicopter, hovering forever over the river of the body of you.
And, from “Excitebike:”
My mother often said, “Eat every carrot and pea on your plate,” and soon enough my wife is teaching our son how to shake his rattle, and he’s so excited his arms flail in spastic semaphore. He will want a dirt bike and some mud through which to ride it. He will want a camera crew. And I will sit in the stands clutching my bubble wrap, worrying it in my fingers like rosary beads, popping a cell for each lap he makes.
I was talking recently to a 23-year-old friend who is himself a budding poet (mostly writing in the form of song lyrics) and he asked me if it is possible to write poetry about the things he knows about, things like video games. Hey, brother, have I got a book for you. He devoured But Our Princess is in Another Castle overnight. When he gave it back to me he said, “This book really made me smile. I could not believe I found so many things I know and love in a book of poetry.”
I also recently told a school teacher friend of mine about this book. He just turned 60. He said, “is Frogger there? Ms. Pac-man? Tetris? Doom?” Yes, yes, yes, and yes, along with more than 60 other video games developed between 1979 and 2002. Given the age difference between my two friends, I’m figuring there must be at least four generations of minds out there that developed during those years, all creating their personal mythologies from these virtual realities. What commonalities lurk there? I have to notice that most of these conjoined minds are probably of the male persuasion, but I will leave the gender question for another writer to ponder.
I strongly suggest you read this book for the sheer beauty of the language and images. Along the way, I am sure you will learn something about yourself, as Best writes in “The Legend of Zelda,”
It is human to expect narrative, to thread meaning….You said it in spite as you were leaving, and I didn’t believe you until now: We become the stories we tell ourselves.
Lisa Vihos has two chapbooks, A Brief History of Mail (Pebblebrook Press, 2011) and The Accidental Present (Finishing Line Press, 2012). She is an associate editor of Stoneboat and an occasional guest blogger for The Best American Poetry digital.