In a meandering meditation, poet and naturalist Ackerman (
A Natural History of the Senses, etc.) employs the term "deep play" to refer to a combination of what others sometimes call "flow" or "the zone" and what anthropologists call "sacred play." Her subject can be understood as intensity, or even ecstasy, those moments of heightened experience when the mind and senses are working at full capacity. Her acknowledgments page bears a portent for readers as she mentions previous essays on poetry, ceremony and eco-psychology, travel pieces on Gauguin and the Grand Canyon, and more: to fit her broad conceit, she's shoehorned in a wide range of her activities. At her best, which usually comes when she is writing about something observable (e.g., standing amid penguins in Antarctica), Ackerman can beguile readers with fine turns of phrase. But when she indulges her weakness for abstraction, she can get airy. Musing on her application to the "Journalist in Space" program and the future of commonplace space flight, she declares: "What wonderful fields of deep play await us in space!" Poetry "is an act of deep play," she asserts, in an interesting if somewhat off-point account of writing and teaching. Some of her conclusions settle for a dismaying level of generalization as when, citing her experiences with soccer players and cycling magazines, she suggests that professional athletes are businesslike, while amateurs are more playful. Ultimately, the book is more confusing than illuminating, and, oddly, more labored than playful.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The noted poet/naturalist on the pleasures of "deep play" -- things that absorb us so totally we forget everything else.
Ackerman writes best when she balances her impressions with objective knowledge, like research on the functions of play in various species or the utility of color in nature....In her previous book,
A Slender Thread, Ackerman used her personal experience as a crisis hot-line counselor to illuminate some of the shadows of the human condition and produced a moving, informative work. It is to be hoped that in her next endeavor she will regain her sense of balance. The New York Times Book Review
Explorations into the world of deep playuntethered, exalted states of immersion and transcendencefrom the ever-dulcet Ackerman (A Slender Thread: The Ch anging Seasons of a Naturalist and Crisis Counseling, 1997, etc.). Play is everywhere, notes an obviously elated Ackerman. It is an aspect of culture and courtship, language and ideas; it hones problem solving and strategic thinking; it is part of staying fit: "The more an animal needs to learn in order to stay alive, the more it needs to play." It is part of that act called learning, and "fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish." What has Ackerman's attention here is play that has slipped to a different level, a combination of clarity, wild enthusiasm, saturation in the moment, and wonder, where words like "rapture" and "ecstasy" feel as comfortable as an old pair of sneakers. Art, religion, risk-taking, and sports (remote, silent, floating sports like scuba, parachuting, mountain climbing) are all forms of deep play. Typical for Ackerman is a "marginally frightening state in which I would exist entirely in the tense present and feel quintessentially alive," like piloting a small plane, although building a fieldstone wall, the sight of autumn leaves, and the sharing of friendship can also trigger an experience where time implodes or explodes or splits, and the instinctual take over. Such moments are measured more as a mood than an activity, more a "how" tha a "what." Being an exquisite natural historian, Ackerman often deep-plays outdoors, where, knit into nature, she drinks from its miracle waters. To wit: While sharing an ice shelf with some penguins in Antarctica,"out of the brilliant blue emptiness snow began falling in a confetti-sparkle of diamond dust. I was standing in a kaleidoscope." Words may never do it justice, and likely Ackerman's come as close as they ever will, but there is no mistaking deep playor flow state or runner's high or what-have-youwhere something startling takes place that won't be forgotten. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Author tour)
"[Ackerman] brings such joy to the page.... The very act of reading this original, exultant, sage, poetic, and generous meditation on the importance of enchantment is deep play, and you can't ask that a book be anything more wonderful than that." Booklist
"A fascinating subject.... Ackerman writes a swiftly moving and sensuous prose." The Washington Post Book World
"Ackerman is a skilled observer of nature and a lyrical prose stylist.... This is a human keenly attuned to her senses." The Philadelphia Inquirer