A Review of
Mary Barnet's
Poetry Collection

by Salvatore Buttaci



It is rare to find a poetry collection accompanied by artwork that reflects a kind of meeting of the minds: poems and pencil drawings wedded in an aesthetic compatibility. Such is the case with Mary Barnet’s poems in Arrival and Richard Schiff’s artwork. Truly a worthy edition to place on one’s bookshelf!

Mary Barnet’s poetry succeeds in tackling life’s complexities and presenting them, line by line, in simple language understood on two levels: intellectual and emotional. In "Lake on Lake," she writes, "I see you canoeing / Lake on lake / My sleep is sweet / Already I am in / The air about you…/ Together ride the waters / Return to land /Bound in chains of pine and maple…"

We witness in these poems both departure and arrival, the poet’s movement from here to there, and though we may see sorrow, we are never shown defeat. "Though winter winds may blow / On the vines of life, / We are like gourds, / Rattles shook in joy as well as strife; / Worshipping Life with life…" ("While the Waters Flow").

Her poem "Meeting" shows an adept handling of irony, something many poets fail to do because it is a narrow line between attempt and success. "Meeting" is not really a meeting. It is a poem about an almost reality, a missing confrontation, a kind of "perhaps hand" which e.e. cummings called "spring." The person is a stranger on a train or a bus they share and the poet further claims, "I don’t know you when we see each other on the street." And then in the last two lines, Barnet closes the poem with this delightful touch of irony: "Your face has a haunting familiarity; / I won’t forget you."

The haunting lines of "Mexico - The Day of the Dead" again demonstrate the power of irony: "Time to celebrate the living / Candy skulls and chocolate tombstones / Our ancestors are dreaming of us, / And we dream of a future / that may never come."

We also read the first line of "Push the Hurt Out" and find "In my life of crowded solitude…"  Her tribute to her father at 76, in five brief quatrains, presents us with sentiments drawn from deep within the poet, praise expressed in vivid imagery. We see her father painting in his nook, walking, "Challenging the cold / And all its wiles…" The poem concludes with "Any man should be proud / Of a life that does not fade…"

Rembrandt is honored in her poem "Turning, Turning," and by Schiff’s pencil drawing of The Mill at Leyden around which the poem revolves: "Like to the windmill home to Rembrandt in old age and / poverty…"

"In Ghostly Triumph" we find exceptional contrast on several planes. First "The canine creatures run / back and forth in yipping celebration…" These small pups frolic around a "Half-filled pail, / Lapping up the afternoon." The canine pups, the bright day, a time of domesticated merriment. On the other hand, "Black-faced raccoon pups, / Their mother biting at the heels of night / Whose wildness replaces domesticated day." The raccoon pups, the dark night, a time of wild abandon. An excellent poem!

Mary Barnet works magic into her poetry. While most poets utilize metaphors and other elements of figurative language, only the best of them utilize them well by providing word choices far from clichéd. Barnet’s "Gash In the Sky" begins: "Bloodletting gone awry / Gruesome songstress bleeding / Without a reason why…" Then she takes the poem to a poet editing, "…cutting the poem, cutting the flesh / Yanking the flower from the mesh /Out life’s fabric the threads torn –– wronged / To reveal a clotting reason / so that words are born…" Then in "The Brooklyn Bridge": "A fine bracelet / A jewel in the side of the river…" Richard Schiff’s pencil drawing by the same title is equally magnificent.

What touching observation can be written about the apparently insignificant life of a fly? In the creative hands of the poet in her poem "Bus," the answer is obvious. "An insect / Wasting his short life / Trying to pass through the glass…/ This bus carries us all, / Doesn’t it?"

It has always been my contention that great poets can just as easily compose lines about nature as about the human condition. In her poem "Over," we read "Over the mountains / The sunset hovers red / Red sun and crimson clouds / The sight condenses / To a moment of awe / Full of portent…"

Barnet’s poetry, even in the face of her own "inevitable demise," lends itself to optimism and hope. Every arrival speaks of joy, even those that come after arduous travel. "This and only this ending / Completes the tune God has played / Weaving our lives into the fabric of this world." In her poem "Sturm und Drang," she writes, "What can we do / But grasp the soft flesh / Of light that tries to flee? / / We must dance in the darkness!"

This is a remarkable collection of poetry and artwork, a praiseworthy collaboration by the poet Mary Barnet and the artist Richard Schiff. I highly recommend Arrival to all those who, like me, seek in poetry a melding of the heartfelt and the meaningful, poems and pencil drawings to revisit again and again.

Salvatore Buttaci



Salvatore Buttaci is a retired English teacher and writing instructor who was awarded the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award in 2007. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, www.poetrymagazine.com, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, and  Cats Magazine

His current poetry chapbook What I Learned from the Spaniard… (Middle Island Press) is available at http://tinyurl.com/nz2rmuz

If Roosters Don’t Crow, It Is Still Morning: Haiku and Other Poems http://tinyurl.com/7ssnzg4

His short-short story collections, Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, are available in book and Kindle editions at Amazon.com .http://www.kindlegraph.com/authors/sambpoet

Salvatore Buttaci was Poetry Editor of the Bayley Review at Seton Hall, Poetry Editor of Issue Press, a multidisciplinary forum, and Editor for more than a decade of New Worlds Unlimited, an annually published poetry anthology. More recently he edited The Poem Factory on the Internet.

He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.

 © Copyright 2014, Salvatore Buttaci.
All rights reserved.