From a Person Sitting in Darkness (Paperback)
New and Selected Poems (Southern Messenger Poets)
LSU Press, 9780807123140, 208pp.
Publication Date: November 1, 1998
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With a nod toward the grounding inspiration of Mark Twain and James Baldwin in its opening epigraphs, this lush collection of free and formal verse--turning on multiple axes of race, religion, history, politics, and social issues--soars in exploration of the dark, troublesome visions of America. Gerald Barrax, "a black poet who makes familiar black attitudes agonizingly fresh" (Library Journal), speaks with ire and passion of those robbed--and those who rob them--of hope, of sight, of faith, of life. "Ask the West African what happened to his ancestors. / Ask the Native American what happened to his land. / Ask the Person Sitting in Darkness what happened to his light."
But Barrax also croons--about the natural world and its creatures, about music, and about human love and relationships. "Cello Poem," Dennis Sampson wrote in the Hudson Review, "is an erotic love poem of flesh-and-blood so artfully told one scarcely knows the difference between the cello at the end and the remembered lovers." And in "The Old Poet Is Taken in Marriage," Barrax displays an endearing capacity for gentleness and surprise. "Poets who swagger and strut make me sick / with envy," he writes, "while yet I marvel, in terrified humility, / that poems come to me at all, as Emily / did, for no reason I can understand." Through the unswerving perspective of a black man, Barrax widens the human experience, achieving a universality of tone. His poems find words for real feelings, and the color of a lover's skin is, ultimately, not very important.
One hundred four poems in all, eighteen penned since his last book, From a Person Sitting in Darkness showcases Barrax's gifts for arresting imagery and compression, crystalline diction and dichotomy, narrative force, and the leavening touches of humor and irony. This collection is the essence of a lyrical, sensual, unpredictable work.