Way of Whiteness
by Wendy Barker
Trade Paperback, 86 pages
- The "miracle of sweet milk in coffee" that these poems offer makes even the hardest news -- and there is hard news here — and perhaps more important, restorative.
— Alberto A. Rios
- Poignant and exact, Wendy Barker's subtly nuanced and beautifully cadenced new collection ranges from the ceremonial "language of the country of love" to the wistful "upholstery of what might have been" as the poet herself moves toward increasingly radiant moments of discovery. Along this sometimes mystical "way of whiteness," Barker's own art gains in both stature and ambition. She can be wildly funny ("The Judgement: Aphrodite Speaks"), blissfully erotic ("Liquid Poem"), or cooly visionary (the title poem), but her work is always compelling in its clarity as well as in its seemingly effortless achievement. Way of Whiteness is a lovely achievement.
— Sandra Gilbert
- Poems of exquisite sorrow —and naked hilarious truth, love,and ecstasy.
— Ruth Stone
The Bloomsbury ReviewJan/Feb 2001Reviewed by Jeff Biggers
Wendy Barker's third collection of poems, Way of Whiteness, is a lyrical and at times playful muse on the ceremonies and annunciations that entangle our lives at home and abroad. From sampling food in Tuscany to overhearing lessons in French and chronicling the wisdom of her hairstylist, Barker's verses can be bitiingly sagacious, as when she excoriates herself in "Walking With You:"
I don't know why I am trying to decide where the scent comes from. You have taken my hand. We are walking in the same direction.
This struggle to question or question to death permeates the entire volume. In the poem, "At 50, Choosing New Make-Up," Barker declares,
If I could decide on one of these shades, cover the red clusters, broken vesels of my face. I have found my breathing spaces.
As part of a 50th birthday gift, "Swatches of fabric held to my face. / I am a 'Summer,' am told," to which she later wonders in the poem, "Color Analysis":
To what season, then, am I linked, apparently forever, floating rootless on pale air? Am I simply to sway here on wisps of gray, pale cloud, a little gasp of pink, fading lavender as the sun's face sinks?
Barker's fine sense of humor, droll and facetious, keeps these quandaries from being a disease of the personality. In the process, her poems range from the wise to the whimsical. In "The Judgment: Aphrodite Speaks," she provides a modern exposé on old Zeus to which Aphrodite chafes, "We could have made that mountain sing. I tried to make him happy with a woman of his own kind, mortal, but as you know, that backfired." Carrying Aphrodite's charge back to real life, Barker quietly mocks her lover's indifference in "Practicality, Foam, and Nighties":
When a breast spills from a slipped strap, when we sink down under the sheets, sometimes I would like (wickedly) to whisper we are not being very practical.
With these new collections (see Biggers on Pamela Uschuk), Uschuk and Barker mark themselves as two of the most insightful and spirited poets today.
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