Monday, August 10, 2009

No Horseplay, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness Poems by Lyn Lifshin

No Horseplay, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness
Poems by Lyn Lifshin

article by Michael Todd Steffen

From the ancient Greek’s Pegasus to Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, horses and poetry have gone hand in hoof. As general as the equine’s legend is to readers of myth and poems, Lyn Lifshin’s portrait of Barbaro, the 2006 triple-crown derby favorite that broke its leg in the Preakness, is a coterie book, a book more for lovers of horse racing than for readers of poetry.
Barbaro the book is organized sequentially from the colt’s birth to the press days following the great racer’s death in the winter of 2007. Almost 70 pages or 2/3rds of the book occupy the drama that takes place between the Preakness tragedy and the memorial sentiments in the aftermath of Barbaro’s untimely death. It is doubtless a choice speculative interval, awaiting a beloved one’s recovery, for hope and despair, the devil’s dice of inspiration. Lifshin’s lining, approximate syllabic strips reminiscent of reel film is little varied, sometimes broken into oddly numbered strophes. There are instances where Lifshin achieves an effect with the lining, as with the double-entendre capturing the moment of the horse’s broken stride, “A BLURRED IMAGE” (p. 35):

He was done
being perfect

And though on the surface of things it appears Lifshin is following press accounts of this and that, there are subtle suggestions of the lengths to which Lifshin goes on her poetic journey to find the appropriate feelings for the poems.


another summer gone

rain pelting maples,
rain to go with hoof music.
Barbaro moving through mist,
a rain earth opens to,
a sky the color of rain…(page 63)

We find these magical moments, also with many appeals to sentiment, which is what most derby fans will look for in poems. For them the book will be attractive as a unique item of memorabilia.
It takes ambition and dedication to produce a book-length poem or sequence of poems. Lifshin sustains the work on this single subject for 112 pages. For that the school of laureates should all get to throw the waded-up first pages of their Iliads at her.

Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness
by Lyn Lifshin is available for $16.95 from
Texas Review Press
English Department
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, TX 77341-2146

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