The Game of Boxes

Catherine Barnett. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55597-620-0
Though the poems in the long-awaited second collection from Barnett (Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced) are only a handful of lines each, they are deceptively sophisticated. The book’s title originates from a game that the speaker plays with her son, “a simple game,/ seven dots by seven, eight by eight:/ there’s no end to it.” Structurally, the game parallels Barnett’s poems, which are tight and self-contained but when stacked, build into larger suites. The book is organized into three of these sections; the first is called “endless forms most beautiful.” Scattered amid poems about a mother and her son are pieces written from the first-person plural perspective of an amorphous chorus. Abandoned, the chorus moves through various settings: “they let us go out late, past closing,/ they leave us to winds.” “Sleeping/ eyes open, who mothers us?” they lament. Fragmentary poems that stutter through lust, sex, and sorrow form the book’s second section, “sweet double, talk-talk.” Barnett’s emotions are so potent they become something you could choke on: “He’s a lozenge of smut,” she writes, with the acute, straightforward vulnerability that makes these poems brave. “The modern period,” the book’s last section is the shortest, but also the most lucidly personal. “Perhaps I’ll/ be, in my next life, mist,” Barnett muses. “When did it/ get so mysterious? This isn’t me speaking/ but the old gentle hiss of a slow glass ship in a bottle on the sea.” (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/16/2012
Release date: 08/07/2012
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