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Judith Barrington’s Long Love is a collection of new and selected poems celebrating her impressive tenure as a writer. Drawing from Trying to Be an Honest Woman (1985), History and Geography (1989), as well as more recent works like Lost Lands (2008), this latest collection is anchored by Barrington’s stripped-back voice and generous poetic ear. The collection opens with Barrington’s new poems. “The Force,” “We Are All Broken,” and “Neuro-Muscular;”these poems offer bleak beginnings to Long Love as Barrington considers aging, death, and sickness in real time. But with the inclusion of “Dressing for Death,” Barrington pulls away from reality and describes a woman dressing herself with the sea. She writes:
Stepping down from the ship’s ladder
she donned the great blue blouse
that stretched from shore to shore–
a perfect fit.
Such fluid transitions from mundane to mythic is present throughout Long Love and to great effect. After the new poetry, Barrington offers selections from other collections. The transitions feel smooth–and connected by Barrington’s continued fascination with rivers and moonlight, horses and grief, dead mothers and quiet elegances–there is a marked, and naturalistic, flow to Barrington’s work. Given Barrington’s transplanted life, Long Love’s geographic and thematic itinerancy makes sense. Born in England in 1944, resettled in Spain, and transplanted to Oregon, Barrington’s sense of nativity was deeply impacted by the Holocaust; her parents were “sometimes called ‘expatriate Jews’” when “surely, there is no such thing/as an expatriate Jew/ except, perhaps, a Jew outside history.” Like with her Jewishness, Barrington pushes back against forgetting, and even failing to name, lesbian existence. In “This Dyke with No Name Thinks About Landscape,” Barrington writes:
The trouble is not nature, she thinks
but the people who say I’m not part of it
They’re trying to paint me out of the landscape
says the dyke with no name.
As with “This Dyke With No Name,” there is a delicious simplicity to Barrington’s political edge. As a collection, Long Love has a quiet pulse on the culture, and is an impressive, expansive read.
Long Love: New & Selected Poems (1985- 2017)
By Judith Barrington
Paperback, 9781910669273, 160 pp.