Saturday, December 24, 2016
On Broad Sound: Poems by Rusty Barnes
Review by Doug Holder
I have read a lot of Revere-inspired writing from the likes of poets Kevin Carey, Jennifer Martelli, the novelist Roland Merullo and such. Revere Beach, Mass. is no Provincetown. It does not have artists and poets living in close proximity, it lacks the unhindered night sky and sunsets, and the ripple of wind-swept sand on pristine beaches. Revere is sort of the ne'er-do-well cousin. Even in spite of gentrification it is still the home of dive bars, old world Italian bakeries, unapologetic greasy spoons, drug dealers, immigrants, nocturnal, preening young men on the make on the boulevard, and the bronze old men offering their torsos under a baking, summer sun.
I always tell my Creative Writing students at Endicott College to populate their poetry with a lot of “things” and the “ideas” will flow from this. And in Rusty Barnes new collection of poetry, ”On Broad Sound” there is no shortage of “things” and these “things” make so much more than a generic, down-at-the heels seaside city.
In the poem “The Shipwrecked Bar” Barnes populates the poem with telling trappings that shed some light on the patrons of this dive, and their hardscrabble life. Especially arresting is a “draped-eyed girl” who leaves the bar alone to the walk the beach and perhaps seek her form of transcendence from her sorry life,
“and it's all about the draped-eyed girl
leaving the bar alone and walking
on the beach searching for stray kelp,
seeing a stray mutt,
and finding some toy she left behind,
or something burning in the night mist,
something only she can know about,
something the world doesn't want her to have."
Although he hails from the hinterlands of Appalachia, Barnes is a consummate urban poet. One of his poems is situated on the Blue Line, where “an old man asleep nearly topples in place,” and “the Latina lovelies exit/ the train/in high heels and tight jeans...” Barnes, not afraid to show his self- loathing continues, “ and I feel like a horny fool for noticing them, /not much older than my daughter, I immediately curse myself sad... afraid that, like my urges, someday/it will have its way: swallow me whole.”
I was also touched by his poem about the late poet John Wieners 'The Poet John Wieners.” I met Wieners a few times shortly before he collapsed in front of Mass. General Hospital, never to be revived. He looked like the vaudevillian Professor Irwin Corey—a shambles of a man, wild hair-- newspapers springing out from the pockets of his threadbare blazer. As a budding poet, Barnes noticed him at the Harvard Gardens Restaurant reciting poetry and just took him for another crazy stumble-bum reading drunken verse. But years after the fact he realized how callow his judgment actually was...and in Weiners he finds a true poet.
Barnes is a poet who knows solitude, loneliness, and the joy and ache of love. He is enamored with food, a pleasure and a weakness—and knows how food can define the texture of our lives. This is a book to read on a subway, in a hash house, on a bench overlooking the ocean at Revere Beach—simply put—it is a book to be savored and read.