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read the review in Manhattan Book Review
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Finalist for Housatonic Book Award, Writers League of Texas Award
This poetry book ... refreshes because of what it isn’t—not confessional, condescending, or trendy—and because of what it is: honest, wise, humble, droll and memorable. Barker’s generous lines wrap large pages, unfurling, overlapping, and tacking with muscularity of meaning and image.
—Cathryn Hankla, Hollins Critic
Although these poems begin in the classroom, their reach feels limitless and wild. Here, seemingly anecdotal encounters with the work of Henry James, Virginia Woolf or Robert Frost spiral into meditations on the lives of others, the complexities of our ethical decisions, the nuances of human relationships, and the certainties of mortality. It would be easy to say this is a book about teaching—it is!—but it’s also a book about how our experience of reading humanizes us and shapes our experience of the world and other people. Wendy Barker’s poems are rich, complex, and shimmering with energy and intelligence.
—Kevin Prufer, author of In a Beautiful Country and Churches
Remember the classroom where you first read Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird, and how bafflingly abstract it might have seemed? Wendy Barker's One Blackbird at a Time also takes place in the classroom, but don't be fooled. In this wonderful book of poems, Barker is the prof who can't help embracing literature, students, and life--life sensuous, cruel, funny, generous, outrageous, and deeply personal.
A hunky student writing a bad poem reminds her of a hunky boyfriend "fifty-some years back," and where is "that smooth-skinned girl" today? An ecopoetry class triggers a meditation on how words mask the realities of things, and a memory of watching silently a four-hundred pound sea-turtle lay her hundred eggs in the sand. In a class on Mrs. Dalloway, "nobody around this table wonders/ why Septimus hurls himself /out the window, nobody/ needs PTSD explained." Robinson Jeffers' "Vulture" precipitates thoughts on better and worse ways to die, and on encountering an Eagle Owl, "its clean ferocity--a moment nothing short of rapture." These poems are full of ferocity and rapture, a joy to read.
—Alicia Ostriker, author of No Heaven and The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog
Wendy Barker’s One Blackbird At a Time is one of the most personable, entertaining and moving books of poetry I’ve read in a long time. To say it’s about a writer teaching literature is to mistake the book’s occasion for its subject, which is nothing less than the myriad ways poetry and fiction can illuminate our loves and losses, and in doing so teach us how outrage, lament and intimacy are all forms of celebration, on and off the page, and in and out of the classroom.
—Alan Shapiro, author of Reel to Reel and Night of the Republic
Wendy Barker’s One Blackbird At a Time is a humorous and poignant meditation on what it is to be a professor of literature, what it could possibly mean in our era of visual literacy. One Blackbird At a Time makes a case for poetry—the poetry of the canon and the poetry of the now, i.e. Barker’s own poetry. She takes on the big questions with smarts and a disarming joie de vivre. Her work is the best argument against “those who can’t ___, teach.” This is one can-do volume! Anyone who’s ever been a student will want to read One Blackbird At a Time to find out what it is like on the other side of the desk.
—Denise Duhamel, author of Blowout and Ka-Ching!
Like a favorite class, the whole of One Blackbird at a Time is greater than the sum of its parts, although the individual poems stand up exquisitely well on their own. Decades of teachers and students will see themselves in these poems.
—David Dooley, Paterson Literary Review
The poems begin depicting classroom discussions of literature—largely the standards of introductory surveys—then deftly pivot to smart, ranging meditations on contemporary culture, family connection, and loss...And one needn't be an educator to delight in Barker's generous humanist vision. —Benjamin S. Grossberg, Antioch Review
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