Praise for The Animal Gospels
BRIAN BARKER’S ELEGANT EAR, schooled in the cadences of southern speech, is tuned to an intensely physical musicality. But of course euphony alone isn’t poetry; Barker brings his song to bear on difficulty, the desire to capture what can be held of happiness. Until, in the stunning final poem, “Monkey Gospel Floating Out to Sea,” his work pushes into bold new territory, his splendid rhythms both broken and fiercely alive, inescapable, rescuing fragments of a life into music.
WHAT IS PAST AND WHAT IS PASSING, what is held onto and what if finally beyond our reach? In Brian Barker’s The Animal Gospels these secular concerns become the source of a strangely religious yearning, a great undercurrent of burden and mystery and praise. Yet what that yearning leads to is less mystical than demotic: the sun-bleached bones of a mockingbird, a clapperless keepsake bell, the smell of wood smoke in a lover’s hair. This is a beautiful and haunting first collection, and it makes one aware of how rare it is to hear a young poet sound the darker chords of what one poem calls “the slow revelation of time itself.”
IN BRIAN BARKER’S POETRY, a ravishing and hypnotic eloquence is undergirded by a staggering and intricate intelligence. One is assured, in these wide-ranging meditations, of the vernacular’s vitality and of the ephemeral’s miraculous radiance. The Animal Gospels is a luminous, expansive, exhilarating, and profound debut.
BRIAN BARKER’S ELEGAICALLY MOVING POEMS remind us constantly that “gospel” derives from “god-spell,” the revelation of glad tidings that there exists a kingdom of heaven; that the world does not consist solely in the law of Old Testament dispensation. But these are secular tidings whose faith in immanence rests in language and earthly love, in the pleasure of new combinations, “winglisp” and “shadowchurn,” and the arresting simile: “gone and irretrievable like a few stray eyelashes / shed by a nightswimmer.” This poet is our nightswimmer who guides us through the animal gospels where Sisyphus busks for gum wrappers and pocket lint, and will never find grace, but where there are also little nameless acts of kindness and love–Shorty drilling through his friend’s blackening toenail to let the blood out. The Animal Gospels takes the echoing question who will remember us? and gives back an affirming peace.