Under the seemingly plain cover of the Winter 2017/18 issue of Barrow Street, featuring a black and white photograph of one of the New York streets, I have found complex colors of poetry seeping through the pages. Barrow Street publishes both “new and established poets writing in a wide variety of styles” offering something captivating for any picky reader.
One of the notable features of this magazine is its organization: poems are placed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. This nifty feature makes the search for the works of anyone’s favorite authors easier than usual. In addition to easy access, this issue of Barrow Street is a great read when you are pressed for time, considering that the majority of the featured works are either one or two pages long.
Eve Alexandra opens the issue with a poem titled “Derelict.” The center of the story is a woman and her body:
She sits still, wanting to feel
the way the body contains her, the slope
of her breasts, her shoulders,
neck like the bow of a ship,
hull of her ribs, folded sex,
a wilderness where she herself
has been lost, starved.
The poet explores themes of love and violence as well as the passing of time and transformation. Chilling and intimate, “Derelict” is a striking poem dealing with human nature.
This issue features two poems by Linda Harris Dolan: “let him be right. 2010” and “your personal cheat sheet.” Both poems focus on the speaker’s father suffering from a disease. These two intimate pieces illustrate not only the speaker’s feelings towards her father but also her vulnerability.
Heather Kirn Lanier’s poem “Things I Heard After My Baby Was Born” lays out some of the phrases the speaker heard as a mother of a child with disabilities: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. / It doesn’t look like anything is wrong.” or “She’s not damaged goods. / You can always place her in a home.” The phrases reveal deeper issues in a society that sees a child with a disability in terms of lack or deficiency. Lanier includes another voice in the poem that offers some sharp remarks to these dehumanizing phrases: “What I imagine is can’t, / You are anything, going through wrong.” or “She’s a home. / You cannot always place her.” Wittily incisive, this poem works to break stereotypes.
Richard Sime’s poem “Dinner, for Two” is concerned with a familial theme. Unlike Lanier’s work, however, it is less critical and more heartwarming. Sime depicts a kitchen:
The plains surrounded us, treeless
and as flat as the countertop
I’m sitting at. Wind, a lot of it, shakes the winter day as my mother breaks
the eggs into a soup bowl, sprinkles in I don’t know what,
hand-beats it thick, old silver fork on
Old china, pours in some milk.
The speaker watches his mother’s movements as she is making French toast. In this calm piece, Sime illustrates the poetry of everyday life in the simple act of making food.
John A. Nieves’s poem “Break” also deals with an interaction between two people, and calls attention to the issues of our world. While having a casual conversation with a dockworker, the speaker “honestly lost track of in the seaweed, and the beer / cans, and the bobbing plastic bags twenty feet below / our conversation.” The distracted speaker creates the sense of a placid atmosphere as he shares a stick of gum with the lady. This atmosphere, however, is disrupted with a final image of a seagull plunging into the water.
Without any illustrations, except for the cover image, the Winter 2017/18 issue brings a wide variety of poetry into focus. No distractions, no editor’s notes, Barrow Street delivers art in its pure form.