*Winner of the 2012 James Laughlin Award* The second collection by Catherine Barnett, whose "poems are scrupulously restrained and beautifully made"(Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post) Everyone asks us what we're afraid of but children aren't supposed to say. We could put loneliness on the list. We could put the list on the list, its infinity. We could put infinity down. --from "Fields of No One to Ask" In Catherine Barnett'sThe Game of Boxes, love stutters its way in and out of both family and erotic bonds. Whittled down to song and fragments of story, these poems teeter at the edge of dread. A gang of unchaperoned children, grappling with blame and forgiveness, speak with tenderness and disdain about "the mothers" and "the fathers," absent figures they seek in "the faces of clouds" and in the cars that pass by. Other poems investigate the force of maternal love and its at-times misguided ferocities. The final poem, a long sequence of nocturnes, eschews almost everything but the ghostly erotic. These are bodies at the edge of experience, watchful and defamiliarized.
The collection is split in three sections.
The first, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," features a dozen or so poems named "Chorus," which alternate with other poems with individual titles. The titled poems all deal with an "I" narrator, an individual, who could be the same individual in each case, while the Chorus poems all focus on a "We" narrator that takes up the song of the populace that circles the individual. Sometimes, while driving or walking down the street, I'll break out of my own personal narrative and be stunned by how many lives are going on around me, each with their own stories, their own internal monologues — reading "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" reminded me of that experience.
The second section, "Of All Faces," is comprised of a single long poems, called "Sweet Double, Talk Talk," a modern love story, full of sex and intimacy and distancing and coming round again. It's beautiful and subtle and bitter sweet, like love often is. I read this through a couple of times and connected deeper with it on the second reading.
The last section, called "The Modern Period," is a series of poems that approach everyday moments, such as visiting a doctor, and finds deeper resonance in each moment.