cover image Deep Play

Deep Play

Diane Ackerman. Random House (NY), $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44879-2

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. Agent, Cullen Stanley of Janklow & Nesbit. Author tour. (May)