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Line Dance , 2010
reviewed by Jackson Wheeler in SOLO Cafe

Sometimes the sophomore effort by a prize winning poet results in a let down, with the second book reading very much like a collection of “everything that would not fit in the first book.” Barbara Crooker deftly avoids this comparison in her second book, Line Dance, with a series of poems linked to the natural world and how that world is perceived through the lenses of art, language, friendship, and the experience of being the parent of a son with autism.

The lens of art is perhaps the most obvious, conveyed by references to artists, songs, paintings, other writers, or other written work, for example the Old Testament, which provides epigraphs for some of the poems, especially, “Valentine” . Quoting from Jeremiah, Ms. Crooker selects, The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it? Ms. Crooker references the heart in many of her poems and never shies away from including the reader in the interior process which makes associations with prodigious leaps of imagination. Grief and heart could be/ the same word; both have five letters, both rhyme/ with blood. In later poems she references Bruce Springsteen and the late Janis Joplin, two singers, if not intimately connected to loss and grief, know how to write and sing about the perverse and devious heart. I was also taken by the images of winter throughout this collection as though much of what is revealed in the poems is linked in some way to the knowledge that during winter and cold great life lies dormant. Her most direct ekphrastic poem, “Les Effets de Neige:. . .” references paintings of snow by Impressionists and Post-impressionists.

Other poems of reverie which are full of playful use of language are “Line” and a personal favorite, “Concerning Things That Can Be Doubled.” Crooker is often at her best with these poems which have a way of saying out loud, this may be how imagination works. These two poems provide an excellent balance to the poems sprinkled through the collection which reference her son with autism. The poem “Simile” with angry as a teakettle, also brings the reader back to the grander theme of the natural world and the human heart, in all its permutations, My pea-shaped/ heart, red as a stop sign, swells, fills with/ the helium of tenderness, thinks it might burst.

The natural world is described again and again in poems which are overtly about the subject in the title, “The Slate Grey Junco”, “Lemons”, “Peony”, “When the Acacia Blooms”, and “Hummingbird” only to reveal themselves as further reveries which bring the seasons full circle.

Crooker states, in “Euonymus alatus”, Oh, how this/ world burns and burns us, yet we are not consumed. She says it with such authority I believe her, I believe all her constructs and I believe in all the hope pronounced in her poem, “Listen,” the title being the first word of the poem which continues, I want to tell you something. The poems in this collection are very fine. When a poet of the caliber of Barbara Crooker says “Listen” I recommend that the reader sit up straight in their chair and let Ms. Crooker tell you a thing or two about the world, the human heart, how things bloom again and how although we are burned we are not consumed.



Review: More , 2010
Reviewed by Shirley Stevens in Time of Singing

Barbara Crooker, who has taught poetry workshops at The St. Davids
Christian Writers Conference, recently read in the Poetry at Noon series at
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

She has gained national attention through Garrison Keillor's reading
eighteen of her poems on The Writer's Almanac, National Public Radio.

Is it any wonder that her fans are delighted that C&R Press has
published her newest book, More.

The Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award recognized her
ability to root the spiritual in the ordinary. I especially appreciate her
poem "Sanctus" in which she suggests that the mourning dove may be a
more appropriate symbol for The Holy Ghost:


A goldfinch, bright as a grace note, has landed
on a branch across the creek that mutters
and murmurs to itself as it rushes on, always
in a hurry. The ee oh lay of a wood thrush echoes
from deep in the forest, someplace green. In paintings.
the Holy Ghost usually takes the form of stylized
dove, its whiteness a blaze of purity. But what if
it’s really a mourning dove, ordinary as daylight
in its old coat, nothing you’d ever notice.
When he rises from the creek and the light flares
behind, his tail is edged in white scallops,
shining. And when he opens his beak,
isn’t he calling your name,
sweet and low, You, you you?

In her poems Barbara affirms life even though she shares her pain in
losing her mother and dealing with her son's autism.

As she walks down a gravel road in her poem "Holsteins," the speaker
affirms that a cow "can grow wings, become an American Redstart." She
embraces the scene:

I want the sun to run down my face like honey.
I want the wind to kiss me. I want all this to last.

In her poem "Yes," Barbara says,

Yes to the life of travel, yes to the other
life at home, yes to the daisies freckling the ditch,
to the sun pouring down on everything
like Vermeer’s milkmaid and her endless
jug of milk.

Crooker often includes references to painters in her poetry.
She introduces us to Magritte weather, to Renoir's "licks of light,"
and to Hopper's gas station where "Pegasus, a faded red, is
about to fly off/ into the sky."

If you're looking for inspiration to create vivid images in
your own poems, you might want to order More fromhttp://www.Amazon.com.



More , 2010
reviewed by Marjorie Maddox on WPSU, BookMarks
In 2004, I helped choose Barbara Crooker’s poem “Ordinary Life” for the Center for the Book’s Poetry in Public Places Poster, sponsored by Penn State University. Since then, my respect for her work has only grown. Her poems on travel, art, and family present more wisdom, strength, and grace than I thought possible. How appropriate that her newest book is simply entitled More. Despite its traumas, she wants life, and she wants more of it.

In forty-one poems, More captures hunger, desire, and satisfaction. In “My Life as a Song Sparrow,” she describes her days as “both more and less than I was/hoping for.” Crooker does not welcome hardship—an infant who dies on her due date, a son who suffers from autism, a daughter who languishes for months in a coma. She does, however, see struggle as part of who she is. She recognizes that her most difficult experiences are inseparable from her greatest joys. And it is with this complicated relationship that she wrestles.

At the end of the same poem, she asks, “What more can a person/hope for, in this world of a thousand sorrows, /than a life that was made for song,/than a body sometimes able to take wing?”

Throughout, she explores the relationships between struggle, love, art, and hope. Often, this entails yearning for, getting, losing, or redefining “what we want.” In one poem, Crooker comically surmises, “What you want/has high cholesterol, lots of sodium/and no fiber.”

In another poem, she simply craves more of what she already has. “The hungry heart wants more: another ten years with the man you love…one more book, one more story,/….as if we didn’t know the ending already,/as if this time, we thought it could come out differently.” Wanting more may be part of the human condition. However, Crooker reminds us that what we truly want, we may already have.

Especially moving is Crooker’s examination of her mother’s failing health. She explains, “This is/the year’s dark dying, when my mother began/to slip from sight, as imperceptivity as the moon/shifts phases; each day, a little less light.” And yet, the poem does contain light through such bittersweet memories as sharing lemon tarts one cold Easter. Crooker expertly captures the role reversal of mother and daughter, the grief of losing a parent, and the promise—even in such cold times—that resurrection will follow.

Ultimately, Crooker voices a resounding YES to this fractured yet beautiful life—as she describes it: [a]ll of us, broken, in some way or other. All of us dazzling in the brilliant slanting light.” In the book’s last declaration of desire, the poet proclaims, “I want all this to last.” And so do we.


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