The End of April and National Poetry Month part 2: the game of boxes by Catherine Barnett

calendarAs I said in “The End of April…part 1,” the month got away from me. What I mean is that all the great ideas I had for celebrating National Poetry Month were just that…great ideas. Just so much smoke. And so to make up for it, I am trying to put up several posts about a variety of poetry collections that I read during the month of April.

Back in the fall, I went to a conference of poets and heard Catherine Barnett read. I also bought her book The Game of Boxes which had just won the 2012 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. And like too many of the books that I buy, it joined the stacks of “to read” books that are now towering next to my bed and next to my desk. Then, as if to increase my guilt for not reading it yet, in April, the Academy sent me a copy in the mail. (Fortunately, I was later able to give that away as a birthday gift to another poet.)

Assailed with the guilt of owning two copies and not having cracked the spine yet, I dived in. And was I glad.

the-game-of-boxes Barnett’s collection is divided into three parts: “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” “Of All Faces,” and “The Modern Period.” The poems in each section are informed by a mature wisdom and wonder and understanding and befuddlement while dealing with those very issues that simply befuddle a younger world. Lust, love, family loyalty, parents and parenting, self, partnership, Barnett touches upon all of these, assuring us that none of us ever really get a grip on everything swirling about us. The middle section, “Of All Faces” is subtitled “Sweet Double Talk-Talk” and delineates the love/lust/comfort/discomfort of a partnership worn smooth over time. This is my favorite part of the collection.

From the outset, there is an immediate comfort in their age and a delight in their familiarity:

It’s a different beauty,
Your torso is stained and creased,
you say your an old man–

the backs of your hands
might be an old man’s hands
but the tips of your fingers —

little shocks of pure mind,
and I like theme there,, yes, ageless
persuasion’s design and rush. (Sweet Double Talk-Talk, i)

There is a weariness in famliarity:

Sometimes he’s everything to me:
yesterday, tomorrow, regret and shame.

And sometimes he’s nothing to me,
an old cushion on an old couch:

a pin-cusion:
something I think I can replace. (Sweet Double Talk-Talk, xvii)

But overall, there is a comforting lust and an accepted love:

I’m afraid you’ll die,
and tonight’s your birthday, it’s no different,
in fact it’s worse,
come drink some wine–

Let’s sit at the bar.
It’s winter,
so I’m in your coat,
I’m in your promises,
your smooth worn promises
sliding in and out of my own
love of death so slick
with want–

Soon, you say, your breath still warm in my ear. (Sweet Double Talk-Talk, xviii)

I cannot say why, but I love this couple. I love their honesty, their quirks, their enduring lusts, their enduring second-guessing. And while this section could almost be considered a narrative, each section is similarly anchored by a wise understanding of time and love and others.