Telephone lines fishtail and fizz,
Dead letters ride up
——————out of the blue breath of mailboxes….
Somewhere a lone cello floats calmly
Across a playground of my childhood.
These lines are from Brian Barker’s “Flood,” a poem about the flood that devastated Houston in 2001. Barker’s writing is vivid and visceral, capturing the physicality of the body, the weather and terrain, the atmosphere and elements of the natural world. Barker’s poems are often a dialogue between vivid childhood memories and their ability to reflect events of historic or cultural importance. His work addresses complex world events by rooting them in a memory or moment, either imagined or true. His poems often navigate the space between what one remembers as a child, and how the adult perceives that childhood experience.
Barker’s first book The Animal Gospels, won the Tupelo Press Editors Prize and is rooted in his childhood in the South. Many of the poems address the darker side of rural living. “Dog Gospel” tells of a child’s cruelty to a dog. Barker neither demonizes nor exonerates the boy who starves and then beats the dog. Instead the reader is asked to consider “What hunger is this that haunts the boy…” Barker’s poems refrain from judgment and challenge us to witness the complexity of being human and fallible, inspiring what Keats described as “negative capability.”
The Black Ocean, Barker’s more recent collection, which won the Crab Orchard Series Award, tackles national and world events such as the Chernobyl disaster, Hurricane Katrina and the forced relocation of Native Americans in the early 1800’s. The collection is punctuated by a series of poems on “The Last Night On Earth” which range from apocalyptic “Visions of the Last Night on Earth” to gorgeous love poems “Lullaby for the Last Night on Earth” and “Love Poem for the Last Night on Earth” You cannot help but feel Brian Barker’s immense tenderness and willingness to be vulnerable in his art. One senses the deep love he shares with his wife, Nicky Beer, also a poet who will be at the 2012 Festival. We look forward to meeting them.
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