Reviews

One Blackbird at a Time

 

“Wendy Barker’s keen eye for detail results in one of the most exciting and original poetry collections I have read for a long time.”

–Valerie Morton, Galatea Resurrects

 

“Winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, selected by Alice Friman, this poetry book by Wendy Barker refreshes because of what it isn’t—not confessional,    condescending, or trendy—and because of what it is: honest, wise, humble, droll   and memorable. Barker’s generous lines wrap large pages, unfurling, overlapping,   and tacking with muscularity of meaning and  image. . . . [H]er poems are written to reach beyond a built-in audience of peer writers and colleagues; she is careful not to poke fun at her students, who are often shown instead to teach their teacher. . . . I value her insights on literature and teaching, her self-deprecating wit, but     most of all her faith in the struggle of human expression, whether in making  literature or reading it.”

–Cathryn Hankla, The Hollins Critic

 

“This collection is not simply about teaching literature: it is about living literature. The words come from the lives we live, and as we live, it is the words that keep coming back to us. Every poem in Barker’s collection exemplifies the inherent connectivity and the art of all the loves and losses that arise. One Blackbird at a Time is a map of influence, a capsule of memories, a personal canon, and love letter. You would be remiss not to take the tour.”

–Trista Edwards, Moon City Review

 

“One would be hard pressed to name a book that is a better defense of the value of  teaching poetry in the classroom than Wendy Barker’s One Blackbird at a Time. Each poem is not only a memorable narrative account of a significant teaching  moment in the career of a master teacher of literature, it is also an addition to the rare canon of poems that teach, by example, both how to write a poem and how to live a life. That’s because every poem . . . is a poem of discovery, as well as one of witness. Barker goes far beyond merely expressing previously arrived-at truths—her poems are investigations into the depths of language and thought and emotion.”

–Terry Lucas, South 85: An Online Literary Journal

 

“In these days of funding cuts to higher education, all legislators should first read One Blackbird at a Time.”

Exit 7

 

“This collection is a highly selective memoir often reflected through  the literature taught—a difficult idea brilliantly achieved.”

–Roberto Bonazzi, San Antonio Express-News

 

“Reading One Blackbird at a Time. . . is a sheer pleasure for so many reasons.  Each of the poems is written as a meditative response to Barker’s thirty-five plus years of college classroom experience teaching literature and creative writing. Her light but exact touch reveals a deftness that only a master craftsman/woman could  accomplish through the stitching together of personal history, and the often wise, as well as often dense, observations and quips by students. . . . The invitation issued to the reader by these poems feels ardent and real, quickening and generous.”

–Sarah Cortez, Texas Books in Review (forthcoming)

 

“Through these poems the intersection between literature and human beings who   reckon with complicated, sometimes tragic lives comes alive. . . . . What emerges are tapestries: the poems as singing tapestries. . . . . Lyricism arises from Barker’s flexible diction and fluid sweep of long lines, long sentences. (Visually the long sweeping lines evoke the image of a threaded loom.) . . . In the final poem “The Last time I Taught Robert Frost,” all aspects of Barker’s life as poet, professor of  literature and creative writing, and sensitive woman merge into a radiant    crescendo. It reveals why human beings invented literature in the first place, why literature will always be essential to our individual lives and to our culture. It reveals how literature can knit us together into communion of two souls, and into awakened community.”

–Cyra Dumitru, Voices de la Luna

           

“A deeply personal, sometimes nearly stream of consciousness, record of teaching experiences of the poet written in finely wrought free verse. Her observations are     often humorous, sometimes poignant, but always palpably honest and authentic.  The transfer of ideas from teacher to student, from student to student, and from student to teacher are all explored through spare and lovely verse. . . . These musings, these remembrances, dance across the page sometimes liltingly, sometimes as a waltz, smooth and sweet, but always beautiful and heartfelt.”

–Rosi Hollinbeck, Manhattan Book Review

 

From the Moon, Earth is Blue

“Barker perceives natural mysteries with a fresh and imaginative approach. A remarkable book.”

–Steve Bennett, “Books of the Year in 2015,” San Antonio Express-News

 

Nothing Between Us

“This “novel-in-prose poems” inspired me to begin to develop a course on the novel-in-FF/PP. I love the richness of each choice Barker makes with both language and content, in the telling of this expansive story using a compressed form. I love the novel’s movement and its stillness, the forces at work both in its creation and its final form. I most of all love that it made me feel, the way the narrator tells her tale as if there were really “nothing between us.”

–Randall Brown, FlashFiction.net

 

“A love story as sensual, vibrant, and conflicted as the Sixties . . . . Nothing Between Us, a novel in verse, is both innovative and captivating. Barker constructs the story through a series of linked prose poems . . . . Of course, the story is marked by the cultural icons of the time: VW Beetles, macrame, marijuana, granola. But rather than indulge in nostalgia, Barker delivers a refreshingly honest view of the Sixties. In Barker’s capable hands, these well-known icons become fresh new metaphors with which this wonderful poet captures the ridiculous, the terrifying, and the beautiful of that strange, heady decade.”

–Katie Cappello, San Francisco Book Review

 

 “Each section in this love story, set in Berkeley in the 60s, carries the narrative forward, but does so by fully describing a single moment.  A married white high school teacher at an integrated school gets involved in an affair with a black colleague.  That would be complicated enough, but there is so much more to this novella about race and sex and the muddle we make trying to understand each other across race and gender lines.  How do you break down barriers in some areas and not in others?  In Barker’s case you do it by writing poetry:  using the best possible word in the best possible way, and leaving out anything self-protective in favor of the raw and direct.”

–Kel Munger, Sacramento News & Review

 

“With Barker’s sensual and savory descriptions, the reader will most likely move through this collection of poetry ‘like syrup through a snow cone’ to be left with a bittersweet memory of the narrator’s impressions of this particular time in American society.”

–Audrey Nowell, Concho River Review

 

Poems from Paradise

“Masterful poems” that explore “a primal integration of the self.”

–Robert Bonazzi, The San Antonio Express-News

 

Poems’ Progress  

Poems’ Progress by award-winning poet Wendy Barker is a unique book for all ages. It features not only Wendy’s original free-verse poetry, but also the  creative process by which she created her poems, described in her own words.  Insightful and inspirational, Poems’ Progress opens the mind’s eye to a clear  view of the human creative process and is a highly recommended addition to any literary collection.”

–The Midwest Book Review

 

“This is an interesting approach to both writing a memoir and showing how  poems are written. Barker chooses significant poems from her writing career and   then discusses the inspiration and conditions which led to their creation, showing  where they fall in the chronology of her poetic and personal development. She shares failed drafts, revisions, comments, and advice from editors and colleagues. As a bonus, she shares thoughts and feelings unconscious then, but conscious now  as she looks back.”

“Barker reminds us that however far afield poems seem to go, they always spring from the basic wellsprings of our existence: family, emotions, the events of our  lives, and the untamed beauty of the world.”

“Anyone interested in how poetry is written—how it affects and is affected by life—should find this book fascinating.”

–Iconoclast Review

 

“Barker’s “enthusiasm for the process of writing is infectious.”

Iota

 

Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems (co-translated with Saranindranath Tagore)

“The translators have succeeded wonderfully.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“Exquisite poems . . . compact, elegant, contemplative, and riveting lyrics.”

Booklist

 

“So evocative that one can’t help wishing [the translators] had translated all four volumes in their entirety.”

–Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post Book World

 

Way of Whiteness 

Way of Whiteness is “a lyrical and at times playful muse on the ceremonies and  annunciations that entangle our lives at home and abroad. . . . With her “fine sense of humor, droll and facetious,” Barker “range[s] from the wise to the whimsical.” She is one of “the most insightful and spirited poets writing today.”

–Jeff Biggers, The Bloomsbury Review

 

“Barker is a poet deeply connected to the earth in all its various colors and textures. And this is a book seeking a different kind of color analysis altogether, one that encourages a closer look at what is reflected from and what hides within    apparent emptiness. . . . Like glass, the diverse facets of human experience  detailed in Way of Whiteness shed light on both the seen and unseen in us all. And when Barker writes in ‘Picnic Makings,’ ‘You put your spoon back / into the cup, offer again, Would you / like some more?  Here.  Have some more,’ I will open wide and answer, yes.”

–Jenny Browne, Borderlands

 

“Not as absence of color—which indeed white can never be—but as a dynamic synthesis of color and experience, Wendy Barker’s Way of Whiteness affirms the use of poetry in transfiguring life’s asymmetries and conundrums.”

–Hannah Stein, American Literary Review

 

Let the Ice Speak  

Barker’s “appearance on the national poetry scene is not only important for poetry but for those who care about the success of family relationships. Barker understands the fluid and complex map of heterosexual relationships, and she is a  guide through the difficult terrain of changing gender roles. And beyond these concerns, her poems are about the redemptive qualities of language.”

–Kevin Clark, The Bloomsbury Review

 

These poems “move with sure-footed ease across the complex terrain” of life with  an “honest and accurate defining [that] gives special valor to all of Barker’s  poems.”

–Sandra M. Gilbert, Poetry

 

“Barker’s way of combining disparate parts into a seamless whole hearkens back to the lyric manner of the English metaphysical poets, but in building her conceits she does not neglect the narrative elements that make her poems succeed.”

–R.S. Gwynn, Review of Texas Books

 

Winter Chickens  

“There is a delight here in the wonders of the everyday world, but there is also an ability to make us feel the hurt in life, sadness at things not being as we would  like them to be. . . . and yet the effect of Barker’s book is quietly to return us to an awareness of our better selves. . . . . With little commentary from the poet, the poems allow these scenes to work their cumulative effect on the reader, and time and again they hit their emotive mark.”

–Dave Oliphant, Texas Books in Review

 

Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and the Experience of Metaphor 

“Knowledgeable, informative and as witty as she is thorough.”

–Martha Nell Smith, The Women’s Review of Books

 

“If future volumes in the series are as soundly argued and well documented as this book, the series will do much to change the way we perceive the history of literature.”

Choice

 

“Barker’s graceful and often dramatic prose vividly depicts Dickinson’s poetic vision.”

–Wendy Martin, Signs

 

“Wonderfully lucid, and as richly fluent in the realm of functional symbolism as is Dickinson herself, Lunacy of Light should become a major enlightment for future scholars intent on seeking out the intellectual delights amid the sensual riches of this most misunderstood poet.”

–Bryce Milligan, San Antonio Light