Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stabbed in Stanzas Book Review: Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes by Rain Graves

Reviewed by Karen L. Newman

Rain Graves explores the bar scene in her latest poetry collection, Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes. There are no strobe lights, no fresh-faced college kids looking to hook up. No, in Barfodder, the patrons drink in dark, dirty places that reflect their own lives.
The collection seems as a whole to be a throwback to earlier times. Some poems, such as “1900”, “Buenos Aires: 1932”, and “A Victorian Love Story” spell that outright. Even those set in modern times, the people seem to be cutouts that don’t fit in with today’s society, a brilliant metaphor for outcasts. However, Graves does not always keep the theme of bars and cafes. Some poems are speculative, such as the series of three poems of “The Angel of Wrong Things”. No bar or café is mentioned, and if inferred, not readily observed by an average reader. Death and despair are common threads that run throughout the book. The evils of drink and the evil that can cause one to drink can be inferred, perhaps, but need to be more obvious for the title to be effective. The book itself is longer than need be, with all the blank pages and subsequent page turning that made reading the poems similar to trudging through mud.
Graves has her own writing style that stands out from other poets. Her work is fresh and original by her placement and choice of words. An example would be an excerpt from the poem “Serial Walk on a Moonlit Beach”: pillows of sweet bitterness / mingle with clove oil / some kind of sugar poppy, / or pollen-ragweed heavy, / heady and head-aching / for a non-empty cranium / I filled it full of sand / when the thoughts were removed. Each line seems to be its own kernel of thought. Alliteration and consonance are afterthoughts to the words themselves. Graves’ use of imagery is stunning.
Barfodder will leave an impression long after the book is finished. Graves is a wonderful writer that can capture humanity’s despair beautifully in verse, like a fly caught in amber.

--Karen L. Newman