The blurb on the back says it all: “This is David Barnes’ first and last book.” That David ever came to be a poet is a kind of miracle in itself. He’s an unlikely candidate. A ward of the state, placed in institutions and physically and sexually abused – there was little likelihood that he would become a functioning adult, let alone a loving one who could have a happy relationship, a much-loved son a self-deprecating sense of humour – or a writing career.
I’ve always found the term ‘experimental literature’ to be unsatisfactory, since it begs so many questions. For a start, what hypothesis is being tested? Then again, how would you know that the experiment – if such it is – has been successful? Only if the hypothesis has been confirmed? Yet what if the experiment had done its job, by providing a rigorous trial?
By the time the work gets to “Days of Violence days of Rages”, the extended poem becomes an incantation of pain moving Alice through an entire lifetime of sex, communism, childbirth, betrayal, loneliness, illness and death. It’s both intensely powerful and at the same time, self-indulgent and bitter.
I especially liked when she reaches a moment of spirituality in “Dream” that has a happy, feel to it “… Your eyes quivering in the light / Where is God / But in a dream where / the light between us, always yellow …” hints that there is something more one can obtain beyond our life.
Throughout, there’s a lot of luminous polemic, a slue of terrific poems (Man Ray’s ‘Untitled’ was a new one on me), a bevy of insights about art and poetry. If you are looking for a classy thought-provoking rant, if you want something to stir and shake you up and perhaps inspire you to start writing poems (if you don’t already) then The Art of Recklessness is prescribed.
Although the price is rather steep, even for a textbook, this isn’t a book you can just read through, put back on the shelf and forget. For those that want an insight, both as reader, and perhaps more valuably, as writer, into the techniques of poetry in general, and those specific to the giants of poetry that make up the ultra-influential modernist movement, this is a book that can be returned to regularly. It is well structured, well researched, clearly written, and full of innovative insights.
The poems convey a diverse range of moods and themes: love and longing, celebrations of nature and music and drinking ale, sorrow and melancholy, mysticism.
jpg” align = “left”> Throughout the book, the imagery is always powerful – drawing from myth, fairy tales, a painter’s palette, Blake, medical terminology, the beautician’s rooms, the seaside, and above all, the natural world.
You will find it difficult to decide on favourites herein. Close to the top must come David Wojahn’s poem about the meeting between Dylan and Woody Guthrie at the Brooklyn State Hospital. Then there is Tomas Transtromer’s poem about Haydn (‘Allegro’), which is quite sublime.
There is an abundance of that much vaunted Russian soul – spiritual and cynical, sometimes both at once; continually celebrating and kvetching about creation – in this fine collection.