Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TO-READ l The Game of Boxes

I love to write about poetry because:

a. I get to take a break from all the close paying attention to of character names and dates of birth and problems, "blah, blah, blah."

b. I get to take a break from all the close paying attention to of real people I know's names and dates of birth and problems, "blah, blah, blah," for a few hours.

c. So few others are writing about poetry in general, not to mention a specific book, that the chances of my getting called out for "misinterpreting" the "meaning" of a book or a poem are quite slim. "That one's about about health care," I could say. "If you really listen."

d. You can pretty much insert a line or couplet at any point, anywhere you like, in place of actually forming an opinion, and no one seems to note the difference, so long as the poem's parts of speech line up with yours syntactically, "like penicillin, or wine." Doesn't even have to make sense.

e. The publicity on these things is usually so low-key it can be hard to find even an image of the book in question. And so instead you get to use such searing author photographs as you see here. Look at that thing! You're not going to read Catherine Barnett's second book? Fine by her. It's already reading you... Granted, I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like something a Bond villain would say, doesn't it? Like toward the end of the Olympics opening ceremony?

So, in summation, poets may not get the marketing and publicity of their prose-headed contemporaries, but we do get the upper hand when it comes to author photos. No smiling faces efforting to make a good impression here, book buyers! Just stolid, unexpectant seriousness! The truth and nothing but the truth! A little less conversation, a little more... Wait, no, back up, that's not my point at all. Rather, even though Barnett appears not to care whether you read her book or not, you should. And in case my, in homage to Barnett, use of the first-person plural pronoun "we" a moment ago wasn't indication enough, especially for those of "us" seemingly on top of everything apparently, here's why:

Burnett, whose poems, in this her second collection, pendulum between perspectives of an inward observer and an outward or collective persona called here "Chorus," feast upon what's clear and utterable about living as a single mother, lover, and daughter, in search, at times, of a mother, not only of her own, but of an unexpected elephant, "a dirty gown of wrinkles, so wrinkled and slow/and vast and silvery, the whole galaxy shivering," and all these things she, Barnett, sees and feels. (And yes, there's more where that came from.) 

The Game of Boxes is inimitably not askance then from the landscapes that we share and games we play, but like a series of mind-catching entries in a travel epilogue, in observance of the poet's time and ours together, as she breathes in it her voice and, too, her appreciation. Yet like a wobbly fourth wall or unsteady camera I felt myself included in these poems, permitted whether written in the singular or plural. My course through them unpaved, though bearing my best interest in mind; my hands shaping the pins that otherwise might hold in place a faulty tower made of blocks or game of "keep it to yourself." Barnett's role as participant and witness to her various disguises grants us and assumes our authority "like dimes," to "fling ourselves into the dime toss." (I'm not even trying!)

Light as air, these poems momentarily (in the most complementary sense of that word so impossible to realize in writing) acknowledge and suspend the weight of that which ties us all together, though is often hard to name. Brevity for accuracy's sake, "The only boat [we] have" that "takes... too long to rise from, too long to return to." (Cha-Ching!)

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