Wednesday, November 29, 2006



Opera: Poems 1981 - 2002 by Barry Schwabsky
(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2003)

Barry Schwabsky loves words. He is practically orgasmic about them throughout the masterful Opera: Poems 1981 – 2002. There is a depth to his poetry that only when you read it allows you to realise how shallow other poetry can be. Musical analogies abound, but in this collection’s case they are not without merit. Each poem is an aria and each section a scene within Opera. The book as a whole combines Wagner with Mozart. Each page is also an expression of light -- light as space wholly filled with poetry, light as the thick white page supporting a poem, light as the object of the poet, as an obsession that he feels and see the light source and that he conveys it to his reader. Opera is a daring book. Daring for the poet who destroys words and rebuilds them into poetry, daring for the publisher who believed and daring for the reader who enters a no-man’s land where nothing is familiar; structure, sentence, word. This is ‘deconstructed’ poetry at its most beautiful.

My impatience can never reach
the end of you. As the mirror
corrected my face, your pleasure corrected
my pain. A woman is most beautiful
reading. She hears: silence, noise,
more silence. Each sound turns
to you. Heliotrope: An unusual word unpacks
a sky rife with exclamations.
--"Opera (ET club mix with Chris Bowden’s
saxophone solo)"

Random phrases and words are thrown together to create a range of images that in turn create a visual poetry in one’s mind. Schwabsky uses this imagery in a number of different ways to create a juxtaposition of messages and impressions.

                              I mistake
your paintings, a potential paradise
of everyday rejections.
--"Burning Sounds"

There is an incredible sexual power in his words. Take "Poem":

You’d rather be painting
by starlight. I’d rather be reading that sentence
inscribed across your chest.

Simple words imbued with frustration and longing. A couple torn by their unrelated desires. Two sentences sum up a relationship in three lines. This is an example of how Schwabsky rips off the bandage to reveal the gangrenous wound that festers beneath. In a similar way he also uses the pantoum to devastating effect.

weakness. I fall
in your
skin. Forget memory.
blow on my dice.

I fall asleep
your skin. Ignore
the gentleman in the book.
what remains
in middling horror.
--"A Later Hymnal"

It is difficult to explain what Barry Schwabsky does with words. He decimates, caresses, adores and discards. While he occasionally allows conventional form, it is tempered by his savage whimsy. I Remember Lavender is a prime example of this teasing play.

Barry Schwabsky is a poet that cannot be tied down or pigeonholed. His work is ever evolving and challenging for the reader. Opera is a wonderful collection of his work. Other poets may have created a larger collection over the twenty-one years this collection spans, but when you read this book you understand that every poem is quality with nothing sacrificed in the pursuit of quantity. Order it. Buy it. Read it. And prepare yourself for a surreal journey.


Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.


At 6:12 PM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Michelle Bautista elsewhere in this issue at:


Laurel Johnson in GR Issue #2 at:


Post a Comment

<< Home