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The Game of Boxes: Poems

Overview

*Winner of the 2012 James Laughlin Award*

 

The second collection by Catherine Barnett, whose ?poems are scrupulously restrained and beautifully made? (Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post)

 

Everyone asks us what we're afraid of

but children aren't supposed to ...

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Overview

*Winner of the 2012 James Laughlin Award*

 

The second collection by Catherine Barnett, whose “poems are scrupulously restrained and beautifully made” (Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post)

 

Everyone asks us what we're afraid of

but children aren't supposed to say.

We could put loneliness on the list.

We could put the list on the list, its infinity.

We could put infinity down.

—from “Fields of No One to Ask”

 

In Catherine Barnett's The Game of Boxes, love stutters its way in and out of both family and erotic bonds. Whittled down to song and fragments of story, these poems teeter at the edge of dread. A gang of unchaperoned children, grappling with blame and forgiveness, speak with tenderness and disdain about “the mothers” and “the fathers,” absent figures they seek in “the faces of clouds” and in the cars that pass by. Other poems investigate the force of maternal love and its at-times misguided ferocities. The final poem, a long sequence of nocturnes, eschews almost everything but the ghostly erotic. These are bodies at the edge of experience, watchful and defamiliarized.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though the poems in the long-awaited second collection from Barnett (Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced) are only a handful of lines each, they are deceptively sophisticated. The book’s title originates from a game that the speaker plays with her son, “a simple game,/ seven dots by seven, eight by eight:/ there’s no end to it.” Structurally, the game parallels Barnett’s poems, which are tight and self-contained but when stacked, build into larger suites. The book is organized into three of these sections; the first is called “endless forms most beautiful.” Scattered amid poems about a mother and her son are pieces written from the first-person plural perspective of an amorphous chorus. Abandoned, the chorus moves through various settings: “they let us go out late, past closing,/ they leave us to winds.” “Sleeping/ eyes open, who mothers us?” they lament. Fragmentary poems that stutter through lust, sex, and sorrow form the book’s second section, “sweet double, talk-talk.” Barnett’s emotions are so potent they become something you could choke on: “He’s a lozenge of smut,” she writes, with the acute, straightforward vulnerability that makes these poems brave. “The modern period,” the book’s last section is the shortest, but also the most lucidly personal. “Perhaps I’ll/ be, in my next life, mist,” Barnett muses. “When did it/ get so mysterious? This isn’t me speaking/ but the old gentle hiss of a slow glass ship in a bottle on the sea.” (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Though the poems in the long-awaited second collection from Barnett are only a handful of lines each, they are deceptively sophisticated. . . . Barnett's emotions are so potent they become something you could choke on: 'He's a lozenge of smut,' she writes, with the acute, straightforward vulnerability that makes these poems brave." Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[Barnett] negotiates the varied paths of love and, with a wry eye, looks for the meaning of life lurking in every corner. . . . Barnett plays the game of Hangman backwards, removing everything but the essential and surprising us with rhyme, turn of phrase and idea and image. . . . Highly recommended." —Library Journal

"Short and tight, all of Barnett's poems are purposefuland often powerful. The Game of Boxes is a book the reader will want to return to after the first perusal, as the carefully chosen language, imagery, and intent of each poem may open up more broadly with subsequent glances." —Shelf Awareness for Readers

"These utterly clear lyrics start in the quotidian and then unpredictably take a sudden half-turn into another worldmythological, metaphorical, fantasticand in so doing assume a crystalline other dimension. They refresh, clarify, and invigorate the minda pleasure to read." Lydia Davis

“If death could be undone by love—that deathless human wish—if death could be undone by formidable mindfulness and immaculate craft, these poems would revive the dead.” Linda Gregerson

 

“These heart-breaking poems of an all too human life stay as absolute as the determined craft which made them. There is finally neither irony nor simple despair in what they record. Rather, it is the far deeper response of witness, of recognizing what must be acknowledged and of having the courage and the care to say so.” Robert Creeley

Library Journal
"All we need is time and a pen,/ no words, no money, no one else/ traversing the white field of ellipses." In her second volume, Beatrice Halley Award-winner Barnett (Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced) negotiates the varied paths of love and, with a wry eye, looks for the meaning of life lurking in every corner. "Lullaby, lullaby,/ rockabye dread" captures her themes: love on the edge of falling into or falling off of or falling out of ("Love,/ the strangest/ of all catastrophes"), whether it's a mother's love or a lover's, whether it's the before, the during, or especially the after. In skillfully wrought poems, Barnett's language can be as soft as it is jarring; this is language that "shivers." Barnett tells readers up front that this is a game of boxes, a scavenger hunt, or a drama. "[C]an I write a play of it?" And she does, complete with a commenting chorus. In these poems, Barnet plays the game of Hangman backwards, removing everything but the essential and surprising us with rhyme, turn of phrase and idea and image. Like the chorus, the reader wants "to know the reasons for everything." VERDICT Highly recommended. —Karla Huston, Wisconsin Acad. of Sciences, Arts and Letters
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976200
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2012
  • Pages: 88
  • Sales rank: 735,459
  • Product dimensions: 5.92 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 0.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine Barnett is the author of a previous poetry book, Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced. She has received a Whiting Writer's Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in New York City.

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