Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Justin Barrett's [Untitled]

Justin Barrett’s new chapbook [Untitled] from Alternating Current through their Propaganda Press is quite an interesting mix with poems that range from mournful to funny, witty to sentimental, and you can expect that Justin has maintained the not-for-the-faint-of-heart spirit that I and many of his regular readers enjoy.

A quick note for those of you who purchase books from Alternating Current in the future: Authors receive royalties. As many of you know, I am a huge advocate of poets being paid for their work. In addition, Alternating Current also throws in free chapbooks from their back catalog with every purchase of a new chapbook. Think of it as the ultimate prize in your proverbial cereal box.

Now back to [Untitled]:

With permission from the editors and the poet, I am able to post and discuss several poems from this collection, the first of which is titled:

broken spoon

there’s also the
time when i was six
and i was digging
in the dirt in
front of our apartment
with a broken
and i found one
of the
red horns of

i believe it was
his left horn.

i ran into the building
fast, and
knocked on
my friend’s door.

his mother
answered, her hair
tangled and her
eyes three
shades of bloodshot.

she yelled at me
for waking her up.
i ran back outside,

even then i knew
you stood a
better chance
with the devil
than with
most people.

I think of this as a tongue-in-cheek poem. We can relate to digging in the dirt as kids and making a discovery of something we aren’t sure of, but our imaginations lead us to a fantastical idea and when we run off to report this it often is not met with the same excitement by the adults in our lives. Not only that, but this poem exposes the dysfunctions of adulthood and how a child interprets it which in the last stanza is a rather alarming and funny insight: “you stood a/better chance/with the devil/than with/most people.” The ending stanza slams the door on the whole experience for the reader in the way Justin Barrett words it, just as the child’s discovery is slammed to his face by his friend’s mother. The poem’s trajectory is unexpected yet comical the more you think about it because you can immediately think of so many times something similar happened to yourself as a child.

The second poem is:

double helix

two scientists recently decoded
the entire Human Genome
and have made bold
that this breakthrough
will revolutionize
the way humans are diagnosed
with, and treated for,

it appears it will be theoretically
possible for doctors
to take a sample of your
DNA, genotype it
and figure out the probabilities
of you acquiring certain
deadly diseases and other genetic disorders.

this is, allegedly, a good thing
as it will equip all of us
with the knowledge
of our potential deaths,
which we can then,
supposedly, prevent
through diet, exercise and,
in drastic cases,
gene-manipulation therapy.

the one prediction i will make is
this foreknowledge of
every disease that
has the potential of
ravaging our bodies and,
eventually, killing
us will only spawn an
especially virulent,
and vastly more
strain of


At then end of this poem the first word to come to mind was “Amen!” This poem reads as though a friend were going on a rant and as you are listening, engaged, the conclusion becomes inevitable and agreeable. This poem distracts the reader from the fact that it’s a poem, at least it does for me, because it sounds like any day’s conversation which I think makes this poem all the more interesting. Sometimes you want a poem to say what it means to say without inflating it with fanciful language and this poem does just that.

I think this third poem is hilarious:


my mother used to tell
me that i could
be anything i wanted
to be when i grew up,
yet here i am
working a menial job
for minimum wage,
thousands of dollars in
debt with the drink
as my only escape.

i don’t ever recall
wanting to be
my Uncle Jimmy.

I find it hilarious because the first stanza seems logical enough, the second one seems hopeless, then the third stanza sounds like a punch-line. You can almost picture this poem becoming a commercial if used in the right vein. Also, coming from family stock that reminds me of “Uncle Jimmy” makes it all the more humorous for me. Perhaps you can relate as well.

This final poem featured is also funny:

at the Sunshine Laundromat

while staring
at the swirl of colors
spilling around and around
one of the industrial-
sized dryers
i noticed a placard
riveted to
the dryer with a list
of instructions on
how to use
the machine.

#1 is:
Check inside of machine for children, pets and foreign objects before loading or starting cycle.

i paused for a second
and opened the dryer
door to quickly
look into the mess
because i didn’t check
before i loaded or started the dryer
and i wanted to
be sure there wasn’t
a Doberman or a
small child trapped in
my underwear

or a foreign object
lodged in one of
my socks.

Really, this poem is just plain entertaining and funny to me. In the words of Forest Gump “That’s all I have to say about that.”

I hope you enjoyed these poems and that you will visit Alternating Current and check out their site and perhaps buy a copy of Mr. Barrett’s collection. There is a wide range of poems and I selected the ones I thought of as funny since it is hard to write poems that make people smile, grin, and/or laugh.

Thanks always for reading, please stop in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…


j.b said...

thanks Paula! :)
i appreciate the kind words and the plug. i'm glad you enjoyed the book, and these poems in particular.
i fail to see anything funny about these poems, though. they're totally, like, serious and stuff. ;)

the broken spoon one is real. happened when i was 4 or 5. the others, on the other hand, are also real. :)

nibblepoems said...

Having read the entire collection, I cannot recommend [untitled]strongly enough. These poems are wonderful and funny and this is a great review, but it really just scratches the surface.

So go and buy the book. Do yourself a favor and bask in the power of Mister.Barrett's words.

Poet Hound said...

I was hoping the spoon poem was real, it certainly seemed so. I'm always happy to read your poems!

Thanks for also boasting about the collection, hopefully together we can attract more fans of Mr. Barrett.

H. said...

An approachable blend of pathos, honest searching, & downright clever smirking--justin's poems are effortlessly comfortable in their own skin...just as he is as a poet.

Thanks for posting on the new book, POET HOUND!

Poet Hound said...

You are absolutely right, and congrats on your new book as well! Waiting on my pay raise to kick in so I can finally buy a copy at www.sunnyoutside.com. (For all the readers, the book is titled: For All These Wretched, Beautiful, & Insightful Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed..."