The Animal Gospels
by Brian Barker
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The Animal Gospels is a collection of lyric-narrative poems that explore faith, identity, loss, racism, the transience of being, and coming of age in the South at the end of the 20th century.
Many of the poems tap into the mythic and totemic power of animals in an attempt to bridge the gap between the past and the present, remembering and forgetting, personal history and public history. The book as a whole is shaped by an abiding faith in story, song, and the redemptive power of memory and imagination.
Brian Barker’s elegant ear, schooled in the cadences of southern speech, is tuned to an intensely physical musicality. But of course euphony alone isn’t poetry; Barker bring his song to bear on difficulty, the desire to capture what can be held of happiness. Until, in the stunning final poem, “Monkey Gospel Floating Out to Sea,” his work pushes into bold new territory, his splendid rhythms both broken and fiercely alive, inescapable, rescuing fragments of a life into music.
Winner of the 2004 Tupelo Press Editors Prize.
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Chad Parmenter of Pleiades has written a comprehensive and highly complimentary review of Brian Barker’s The Animal Gospels. He says, for example, “That mystical intimacy is part of what makes Animal Gospels a marvelous first book. It presents the reader with meditations on what it means to be the product of gospels seen as obsolete—those of Americana, of old–time religion, and of the intersection between the human and natural worlds.” The entirety of Parmenter’s review can be read here.
In the spring, 2008 issue of Crab Orchard Review, reviewer Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum gives a long and overwhelmingly positive review of Brian Barker’s The Animal Gospels “In poem after poem, Barker reaches for insight with the highest lyrical and narrative ambitions, moving within and between time and imagination, at all times examining the strange entanglement of elements that make us who we are. Like the “fizz and flash / of your spent filament” that briefly illuminates the “foggy-eyes stranger” in the mirror of “Self-Portrait With Burnt Out Light Bulb”—like that “smoky globe” which, when shaken, emits a “scarce, peculiar song of broken light”—it is the musical world that draws Barker to the poetic medium.” The complete review is available.
Matthew Ladd has written a thoughful and involved review of The Animal Gospels for the Spring/Summer, 2007 issue of West Branch magazine. Among other things, he says: “[T]he compelling thing isn’t that Barker uses his mammals and birds as vehicles of human failure. Rather, it’s that he so often manages to do this without getting sucked into the yawning thematic vortex of the metaphor itself.” Read the entire review here.