Sweet Spot

J.T. Barbarese. Northwestern Univ./Curbstone, $16.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-8101-2815-6
Rough and compassionate, devoted to blue-collar scenes and demotic speech, to “oafish fact” and “ugly accuracy,” Barbarese nonetheless finds beauty. The confident fourth collection from the New Jersey poet and translator (The Black Beach) gets plenty of energy for its muscular free verse from urban observations, quick portraits of people seen on the street, memories of a Catholic childhood and a baby boom youth (draft boards, JFK). Yet Barbarese at his best does not stop at realist tableaus. He can get introspective, as when a child ”wants to know if some other kid/ would have his thoughts if he didn’t exist.” He can shock: “Asked the meaning of life by a priest, Pete said/ Look between your legs.” Best of all, he has become a genuine master at the quick delineation of character, evoking and then attacking stereotypes, making restrained use of myth (“Persephone,” “Ares”), deploying the sort of detail that could drive a short story in prose. These are lines and figures that get stronger when contemplated at length, phrases that might “show us how to find each other/ while we still can be found.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/17/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
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