The Black Ocean by Brian Barker
(Crab Orchard Series in Poetry)

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In The Black Ocean, poet Brian Barker attempts to make sense of some of the darkest chapters in history while peering forward to what lies ahead as the world totters in the wake of human complacence. Unveiled here are ruminations on human torture, the Chernobyl disaster, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and genocide against Native Americans. The ghosts of Lincoln, Poe, and Billie Holiday manifest from pages laden with grim prophecies and catastrophes both real and imagined. These hauntingly intense documentary poems reflect on the past in an attempt to approach it with more clarity and understanding, while offering blistering insight into the state of the world today. Barker touches upon the power of manipulation and class oppression; the depths of fear and the struggle for social justice; and reveals how failure to act—on the parts of both politicians and everyday citizens—can have the most devastating effects of all.

Throughout the volume looms the specter of the black ocean itself, a powerful metaphor for all our collective longings and despair, as we turn to face a menacing and uncertain future.

Lullaby for the Last Night on Earth

When at last we whisper, so long, so lonesome,

and watch our house on the horizon

go down like a gasping zeppelin of bricks,

we’ll turn, holding hands,

and walk the train tracks to the sea . . . 

So sing me that song where a mountain falls

in love with an octopus, and one thousand fireflies

ricochet around their heads,

and I’ll dream we’re dancing in the kitchen one last time,

swaying, the window a waystation

of flaming leaves, the dogs shimmying

about our legs,

                            dragging their golden capes of rain . . .


O my critter, my thistle, gal-o-my-dreams,

lift your voice like an oar into the darkness,

for all the sad birds are falling down—

Nothing in this night is ours.


About Brian Barker

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Brian Barker teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where he coedits the literary journal Copper Nickel.  His first book of poems, The Animal Gospels, won the Tupelo Press Editors’ Prize and was published in 2006. Also the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2009 Campbell Corner Poetry Prize, Barker has published in a number of journals, including Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni, American Book Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Indiana Review, and Pleiades.
Published May 18, 2011 by Southern Illinois University Press. 80 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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ForeWord Reviews

Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.”—Milan Kundera So begins the opening poem in Brian Barker’s second book, The Black Ocean, and that epigraph frames the poems that follow, for each one sweeps readers into worlds at the edge of ruin.

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