The Book of Jade: A Critical Edition

Park Barnitz, compiled by David E. Schultz and Michael J. Abolafia. Hippocampus (hippocampuspress.com), $20 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-1-61498-126-8
This volume of decadent poetry from Barnitz (1878–1901), first published in 1901, is renowned among horror readers for the "ornate morbidity" of its contents. Schultz and Abolafia have put together a commendable new critical edition, which includes the full text of the first edition, previously uncollected poems and prose by the poet, scholarly essays on his literary legacy, and Gavin Callaghan's "Park Barnitz: A Biography," the most comprehensive bio-critical essay to date. Barnitz, a Harvard-educated scholar who specialized in what was then called Oriental Studies, counted among his many influences Charles Baudelaire, to whose memory he dedicated his book, and Edgar Allan Poe, whose Conqueror Worm slithers through much of his poetic imagery. Professing a love of "all sombre and autumnal things," the narrator of the poems in the book's first part expresses his longing for death as the antidote to his ennui and boredom with life. The poems in the book's second part are dominated by graphic graveyard imagery of corpses in varying states of decay and putrefaction. Although Barnitz viewed death as the natural culmination of what he termed "sepulchral life" and believed in the perfection of a terminal "changeless state," his outrageously gruesome descriptions—as in "Danse Macabre," whose references to corpses as (among other things) a "worm-ragout" led him to cut the poem when the book was in proof stage—offer little reassurance that there's any comfort to be found in the grave. Horror emeritus Joseph Payne Brennan, whose essay "America's ‘Yellow Nineties' Poet" was one of the first critical appraisals of Barnitz's work, is surely right in his assessment that "of the 59 poems in the book, about a dozen are worth salvaging," but also that "the good ones reveal an undeniable lyric gift, a pure melancholy which reminds us of Dowson, a perverse and near-perfect despair which faintly recalls Les Fleurs du mal." Readers new to Barnitz's verse will find this well-conceived book an enlightening introduction to a poet whose verse is always interesting and occasionally unforgettable. (May)
Reviewed on: 11/16/2015
Release date: 05/01/2015
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 136 pages - 978-1-103-95501-5
Paperback - 46 pages - 978-1-4589-1066-0
Hardcover - 136 pages - 978-1-103-95509-1
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