Monday, July 03, 2006

ros barber, tomatoes, and tennis

long overdue - a review of sorts of a poetry collection i bought several months ago.

once in a while i come across a poet whose work instantly makes an impression on me. it's not difficult, perhaps, to impress me with one poem, but that's not what i am talking about. what i am talking about is a body of work that stays with me, a collection whose lines and images worm their way into my mind, my subconscious, my memory – and stay. that was (and is) the case with ros barber's poetry.

i had only read a couple of her poems online before i ordered her poetry collection how things are on thursday. i think it was arlene ang who mentioned the book on her blog and brought it to my attention. thank goodness she did!

the book is filled with poems that provoke, that take the reader by surprise, that grab him / her and won't let go; but there is also humour – dark, perhaps, but i'd be the last to complain abut that. and above all, the poems are full of memorable images. ros barber tackles childhoods (and certainly not just the sunny side of them), illness, sports; she observes the seasons, cityscapes, and various kinds of relationships.

the second poem in the book, Lafayette Super Eight, consists of no less than eight parts. the familiar topic of looking back on one's childhood is handled exceptionally well, and with the help of perfectly chosen words:

"… and ourselves shrunk by the decades; / our unseen futures – now our histories – etched faintly over / our faces like ghosts hoaxed onto copper-plates."
the narrator's memory of that particular day ("In half a hour we will run inside for a pitcher of lemonade") is followed by the grown-up's sense of the passing of time ("In half an hour we will graduate, have our own children …").

images and memories of days caught on film are interwoven with things that have happened since then: "There were four of us then: count us, four. / Before we collapsed from points on a square / to a fractured triangle with a central vacuum,"

mother and father make appearances – she on celluloid, he behind the camera – foreshadowing a separation.

i adore this line "Roads so blindingly straight they could / fool you into imagining corners", as i do the wonderful metaphor of shifting tectonic plates beneath california used in part VII, ending thus:
"But under countless games / of Little League, under our lazy backs or bare feet / a thousand lost seasons were reaching critical mass."

more strong images in Fish where "the sea spat out its fish". the closing lines are admirable: "A boil of scales: the small applause / they made for themselves at their effort / of finally breathing the whole sky."

compared to other poems, there is a lot of breathing space in Pronoun – short lines arranged in couplets, and yet the poem is full of terrific images, and human emotion:
"A female voice on the answerphone // paired up your names like Jacks, / like silver cruets, // like evening gloves, / smoothing them out at the elbows."

another highlight - the atmosphere barber creates in Waiting for Scott, using winter, the christmas season as a backdrop for another childhood drama:
"Write a poem, they say, write a poem about snow. / Snow, I wrote, is God's eraser."
"His name is melting. I call and spill its milk / below the sky. […] So it was never land / and always water: listen. The thaw, talking."

then there's Fecundity, chock full of stunning images:
"life loosing itself […], / snuffling blind and soft-nosed through the roots"; "women gather together like nettle beds"; "the whole fat summer / threatening to drop, bloodless, to the ground."

the title of BN1 may be simple, but the poem certainly isn't - looking at a birth while outside that room, life goes on as usual. again, ros barber's words are unique:
"You are roared / through the last half foot; // sworn, slippery, // into your father's hands"; "your lungs crackle / open, you breathe // while the girl at the till / wears her boyfriend's / jealousy"; the ending is beautifully touching: "how we loved you / out of nothing."

in One Way of Falling, the poet looks at the changing of seasons – "September in the park" with stacked chairs swaying "like sextons over some undug plot", speakers that "wring out love songs", elms that "undress":
"Though once quite overwrought / for springs that gouged their trunks with him plus her, / as lichen scabs the lovers' sums to nought // they strip beyond the bounds of taste, to bone."
the rhyme is unobtrusive, subtle, never detracts from the content, never gets in the way.

the poem that haunts me most, in terms of content, is I Filled the Bath with Coty L'Aimant, a chilling story that benefits from the form, and the choice of half-sentences, spoken language, repetitions, a narrator interrupting herself, stammering, trying to come to terms with a tragedy, with guilt:
"I ran the hot water / first because it ran cold so quickly. // So quickly. Little William, sweet William. / 'Goodbye, Nanny Jill,' he said, and I corrected him."
the story is told in between observations that may be typical of people who have suffered extreme shock – in this case, repeatedly, details about a dress, though that, too, serves an additional purpose.

of course there are poems that speak to me more than others, but there isn't one that i dismissed, not one that i found instantly forgettable. i am visiting ros barber's blog regularly for updates on her work on the next collection. i can't wait.

now for something completely different:
here's a pic of the biggest tomato,

and one of the beautiful blossoms of a flower whose name i don't know.

the morning glory won't be long now, and i suspect the first snapdragon blossoms might be out tomorrow - i love that name, snapdragon. in german they are called löwenmäulchen, lion's mouth. oh and we ate the first carrot and the first white radish today - very yummy! :)

been watching wimbledon a little - my least favourite grand slam. i am just no big fan of lawn tennis. i wonder who can beat federer. he is stunning. i'm also curious to find out how far tamira paszek can go in the junior's event. time will tell.

just received an acceptance note from tattoo highway! that's nice. :)

no song but track of the day: john hegley reading his poem st george's day on the oxfam life lines cd


lorguru said...

Congrats on another acceptance! You are amazing!!!!

Ross' chapbook sounds great...I was planning to order it months ago, as well as Arlene's...and I just haven't gotten around to it. This should inspire me!

Your unidentified flower is beautiful and your tomato will be ready in no time!

jenni said...

Great review! I will have to get this chap. And congrats again!

I wish my tomatoes would get red so i can eat them!

Cheryl said...

Interesting review, Michi!
And more congrats!!

michi said...

thanks! :)