It might be said that was impossible to make anger a boring subject for a poem until Aliki Barnstone tried
her hand at it. "Anger"is set in situation a good many
--too many-- of us recognize as awkward,
unpleasant, a dinner for two who, sitting presumably at opposite ends of
the table as they cut and chew
their food with controlled
strokes and grinding, manage a language in which they put each other on
trial. Each has a turn
to outline their argument ,
to make their case, the casing of civility chipping away with
every stroke of knife and stab
Yet we sit together at the table, each to serve
the other artfully poisoned morsels, point a fork,
go on and on, watching the widening distance.
would work, perhaps,if this were a fresher take on a soured
relationship, but the poem treads territory
that is too familiar, and
Barnstone's greatest mistake here is over writing the scenario her
template provides. The poem reads
like a set up for a
knockout punch that does not materialize from the corner she's trying to
fight her way out of. It goes
on too long, and the device
of comparing this meal and its discontents to a trial is less a
metaphor than a reason to write
further , to add stanzas.
You say, "You should have listened to me,"
and, "But you had to be you, didn't you?"
Then I become
the witness who testifies against me.
We deliberate all night, inventing counterpoints,
narrowing our vision at spears of candlelight
we go on and on, watching from a distance,
as we appeal, go back to discovery, retry, seek
sympathy by recounting suffering and history,
this defense may deliver the verdict against us:
The prosecutable element would have worked if
it were brief, even fleeting, and if it were a means to
segue into something else
about the world this couple thought they were living in contrasted the
world they now perceive as
presumably, slowly grinds to a stop. Barnstone might have managed
something genuinely poetic if there were
a sign , in images, of how
the reality has changed. Rather, "Anger" reads as if Barnstone were too
fascinated with the mechanics
of making her -trial
conceit work; the poem is damaged by repetition, needless volume. It is a
mistake of perception, the
assumption that the length
of a piece is a measure of it's value.
This length equals a long wait in a doctor's office.
as well is the last stanza, where Barnstone's woman character, the "I"
narrator, has a failure of
nerve and instead wallows
in the misery she and her husband/boyfriend make for each other:
our embrace will pull us down
through the shades, and we'll hold on to our grievances
and go on,
too watchful, unable to get some distance,
reading and helplessly rereading the sentences against us.
amongst us does want to yell "get your ass out of there"?Barnstone
clings to the relationship less for
affection than for a reason
to continue writing poems like this one. Poems written in bad faith
about bad faith give evidence
not just of bad,
self-pitying verse, but gives obvious clues to an underlying disorder.I
prayer is that Barnstone gets a relationship
that is everything she
desires it to be, and writes a poetry that doesn't reinforce a