You know that cousin you have who is really weird but whom you would defend to the death if anyone badmouthed him? He may be a little different, but you mean that in the best sense. He’s eclectic and creative and bound to do something amazing with his nontraditional life. That’s kind of how I feel about Barn Owl Review (BOR). There were times I was reading and shaking my head in wonder at the same time. BOR is definitely not bor-ing.
In fact, BOR is clever and quirky. It’s publishing some awesome contemporary poetry. Sometimes, the poetry makes me feel like I have ADHD, but again, so does my weird cousin. That’s okay. I guess what I mean is that a lot of the poems feel very rushed and scattered. They jump from one image or idea to another completely different one. They change tone or style midway through. They are sometimes odd but always intelligent, striving for meaning in a world that often seems random and meaningless.
Alison Pelegrin’s “Self-Portrait as a Voodoo Doll” begins, “Chicken livers for a heart / and everything hurts.” Ugh, that line makes me hurt, too, a sort of gross heartache. The speaker goes on to describe herself in voodoo doll details, yet the doll also seems to be abandoned in the woods. She says “I startle awake with moss in my hair, / afraid to wonder where I’ve been.” I’m afraid to wonder, too. I don’t really want to know what’s happened. The feelings of loneliness and fear are enough. Let’s not open that wound. Pelegrin ends: “I can’t believe what I’ve become, / muddy feet, black dogs following everywhere.” Great image. Great lines. It could mean so much and I’ve no doubt it means something wonderful and terrible and personal to each reader.
Pelegrin’s poem is gritty, but it doesn’t have the rushed energy that many of the others have. For example, Matt Hart’s “The Power is Wrong” sort of makes my head hurt, yet I read and reread it out of literary pleasure. It begins with “Cherry pits and stems on the edge / of the kitchen sink” and ends with “Take off your clothes, / follow me.” And in the middle? Everything from “I’m angry about / birds” (my favorite phrase) to “Go / to your monster and never come out” (my second favorite phrase). This is a man frustrated with the world but simultaneously hopeful and passionate and determined. Right before the last line, he says:
Let us be pigs, black mud coursing
through us. Let us take the light
from delight and make it obvious.
I want to swing from murder
to rapture in an instant.
It’s some sort of call to arms, and I’m answering.
Next, in the middle of the issue, there’s a folio (labeled in pages i through x). Why? Not sure. This folio is a selection of eight poems by Sandra Simonds. Although several poets in BOR have more than one poem published in this issue, this folio is intended, I think, to be a featured collection, a mini-chapbook of sorts. The journal never comments or editorializes on its choices or design, which is at times frustrating and at times endearing. Your weird cousin should not have to explain himself!
Simonds’s work is good. It’s funny, gritty, and honest. Simonds is feisty. Simonds likes to curse. Simonds might be one of your cousins. She says things like “I wanted love—not deceit. Eat shit, / deceit!” and “So what if a man hits a woman in the throat?” In fact, she makes you forget that you are not, in fact, at a family get-together listening to the crazy shit your exceptionally well-spoken and intelligent cousin is saying. She’s got great first and last lines, drawing you in and then punching you in the gut. Take that, she seems to say.
BOR is a poetry magazine that stands out and stands alone. I’ve no doubt it will continue to do amazing and nontraditional things.