Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review: Julie Brooks Barbour's Small Chimes

Small Chimes
Julie Brooks Barbour
80 pp., Aldrich Press
ISBN: 13-978-0615993508

Small Chimes, Julie Brooks Barbour's first full length book, is exactly the book which fans of Barbour's poetry want and deserve.  Brooks' ability to communicate the pastoral by way of geography and narrative is exact and delightful.  Barbour's biographical sketches are layered and intrinsically tied to the natural world, which is the perfect platform to discuss the natural progression of a quiet, domestic life.  Much like when an artist creates a portrait by using thousands of different photographs, Barbour's poems stitch together a portrait of her life which reveals itself to be multifaceted and complex.  Barbour is both narrator and subject in the landscape which she composes for the reader.

One of the most compelling aspects of the book for me is how Barbour never allows herself to stray from the natural world.  There is always something elemental at play in her poems.  It is clear the domestic life she has chosen for herself is rooted in her relationships to the natural world.  Whether she is rooting her feet into the earth to hold steady, speaking of past generations, or likening the taste of breast milk to that of honeysuckle, Barbour's narrator never lets the reader forget we are always tethered to the natural world in one way or another. 

Another triumph in Small Chimes is Barbour's refusal to allow the narrator's domesticity become an enclosed apparatus.  It's refreshing because Barbour doesn't defend or celebrate this aspect of her life; she demonstrates how it is the air she breathes.  These poems are not a put-on or manufactured for the reader's benefit; they are the natural conveyance of the world Barbour knows and lives.  Take for example these closing lines from "Because the days are not always filled with light":

because there is honesty and redemption beyond office towers,
because a child welcomes me back home;

remind me of duty, remind me who it is I love

Small Chimes is evidence of the examined life.   And even though she refuses her world to be defined by her gender, Barbour as wife and mother understands the air which she breaths, comprehends her place is as precarious as any other woman's.  Devoting an entire section of the book to the birth and early years of her daughter does not sum up this reality, either. Each moment in this book takes the reader closer to this realization.  Even in the inability to assess herself in "A Thousand Alarms" (the poem from which the books title is taken) Barbour reveals she is ever present in her vigilance.  The first three stanzas read:

A Thousand Bells
a thousand alarms.
I don't hear

the small chimes

or the whisperings
of breath
from my nose.

from neck
to ankles,
I wait for disaster:

The end result of Small Chimes is a declaration made by the poet: There is a life we are given, and there is a life we choose four ourselves, and each one of us gets to tell the world how we perceive it.  Each poem filled with geography, topography, and biography points the reader to something specific and unique.  We learn from these stories and we learn how to reject the tiny boxes the world at large would like us to make allowances for. Julie Brooks Barbour accepted the life she was given and through her poems shows us the world she made for herself--- the one she wanted, and it is not a world familiar with the concept of acquiescence.  Opening this book of poems will bring you an opportunity to learn how to do the same with your life.

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