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Judith Barrington’s fourth collection of poetry, The Conversation, continues one that she has been having with readers of poetry since Trying to be an Honest Woman. Like her earlier collections, keen attention to stanza form, strong lines and musicality characterize these poems chiefly.
Barrington divides this collection into three parts: “The World”, “The Book of the Ocean”, and “Long Love”. Opening with “My World”, Barrington shares, “It’s a female, bustling world, this house where I’m born/under the left-handed Full Mead Moon of July.” The final couplet reveals, “This is my world./I have to learn to love it.”
Barrington revels in the work of loving the world—even, or especially, as age brings another layer of complexity to this labor of love. In the title poem, she writes of Federico García Lorca a day after his arrest being “dead, going//nowhere except into history, no transport required.” Death, or at least the specter of it, is omnipresent in these poems, from moments the speaker reads the paper and considers the lives and deaths of people her age, to the moment when death “hops/and locks onto my shoulder like an angry parrot.” She reflects on changes as lovers age:
The thing is, when you grow old you fail to notice
your lover’s legs very often. Love-struck gives way
to love-soaked, a softer state in which legs are taken
Barrington’s poems invite us to take little for granted in this world we must love. The Conversation joins her earlier three full-length collections, Horses and the Human Soul, History and Geography and Trying, with her two chapbooks, Lost Lands and Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea. In addition to her work as a poet, she is literary memoirist; Lifesaving won a Lambda Literary Award in 2001. Her edited anthology, An Intimate Wilderness: Lesbian Writers on Sexuality, was a Lambda finalist in 1992.
Compounding her literary achievements, Barrington also has made significant contributions to feminist and lesbian literary communities. She was an organizer of Soapstone, a women writer’s retreat on Soapstone Creek. She evokes this work in the poem “Ghosts of Soapstone,” writing “You’ll know them by the/persistent watery soundtrack that splashes their lines.” Water whispers to readers throughout The Conversation, reminding us of its poet’s importance to literature.
While I have read Barrington’s work as it has unfolded across her four collections and two chapbooks, I am a new reader of Jane Eaton Hamilton’s poetry. The open-hearted poetry of Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes delighted me. Hamilton’s enthusiasm for life and language is infectious in this collection, which celebrates art, life and love. Its first section, “Tremblement de Terre,” contains innovative ekphrastic poems, voicing various women artists and taking points of view that are fresh, startling and innovative. The second section, “Our Terrible Good Luck,” gathers persona poems. The points of view that Hamilton captures in her poems are a quirky delight at every turn.
It is the final two sections of the book that made me love Hamilton’s work. Consider this final stanza of “Blue Women”:
Your nipple pointed down like a scolding
thumb, and I remembered how that first time
after you came, you prayed that
I would never leave you
and then I never left
Hamilton’s poems gather heat as the collection progresses into the final section, “Hands”, which renders lesbian life lovingly and erotically. The final poem herein, “The Lovers I Have Loved”, concludes:
(we did not tarry, we did not root)
I still walk toward them
and lay my palm upon each cheek
a lover’s palm on lovers’ cheek
Published by Caitlin Press in Canada, Hamilton is a poet deserving of a larger U.S. audience. Together, The Conversation and Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes demonstrate some of the vibrancy of contemporary lesbian poetry.
By Judith Barrington
Paperback, 9781908836946, 78 pp.
Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes
By Jane Eaton Hamilton
Paperback, 9781927575574, 112 pp.