by Barbara Crooker
Les Fauves is, as the title suggests, a collection of ekphrastic poetry, meditations on paintings from the Fauve and Post-Impressionist movements. But it also contains poetry’s equivalent to Fauvism, poems that take a walk on the wild side. There are language experiment poems, poems of word play, poems in form both usual (end rhymes, sonnets, ghazals) and unusual (abecedaries, traditional, embedded, and double helix), palindromes, anagrams, and word scrambles. Crazy word salad poems. Crooker’s subjects range widely, from living and working in a small village in the South of France, love in a long-term relationship, food as more than sustenance, faith in a secular age, grammar and usage, the pains and pleasures of the aging body. But always, what engages her most is what it means to be human on this fragile planet, at this time in our troubled history, still believing that “Beauty will save the world.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky).
Barbara Crooker’s images, metaphors, and music are so enjoyable that we are shocked when she cuts close to the bone. And yet we knew she would, because she is a serious poet, detailing both time and space. Poetry lives in her. Here she focuses on Les Fauves, the “wild beasts,” a group of painters in sync with one another. They did not just stand the test of time; they defined time. Crooker’s extraordinary ability to write lines that float on air, examine the ekphrastic poem, and drift downstream on lily pads open for us that world, that glorious and exhilarating world. You will return to this book repeatedly because it is alive.
—Kelly Cherry, author of The Life and Death of Poetry: Poems
Barbara Crooker’s Les Fauves speaks for all of us who feel there’s been a big mistake: we were meant to be born in Paris, to have grown up eating baguettes in the shadow of the book stalls on the Seine—yet somehow here we are in Cleveland or Duluth or Pittsburgh, eating cheeseburgers and watching Fox News. What went wrong? This sense of cosmic injustice fuels these beautiful meditations on food and art, language and love. But if her subject is France, in all its sensual splendor, her sensibility is pure Keatsian, passionately in love with “this sweet, sweet world.” Barbara Crooker makes me believe—with gratitude—that if we live well and attentively our lives will grow even richer, even sweeter, as we age into our autumns.
—George Bilgere, author of Imperial
Because Barbara Crooker’s poems read easily, it can be easy to overlook the masterly craft of her work. For example, in her latest volume Les Fauves, Crooker is a standout with the monorhyme (“Scrimshaw”) and the abecediary (“Alpha/Omega: Double Helix,” “This American Life”). She is like someone who has memorized a sonnet who can recite it nonchalantly at a moment’s notice. Crooker also shares a sensibility with many of the artists she writes about, as in Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Flowering Orchard, 1888”: “I want to be bathed in this radiance, / live here in a corner of the picture, raise / my face to the glow like the overhead light / in my mother’s kitchen, and never grow old.” Crooker’s special gift is that she makes you fall in love with the world over and over again.
—Kim Bridgford, Director of Poetry by the Sea, Editor of Mezzo Cammin, author of The Human Interest
FURTHER READING AND LISTENING
Hear Garrison Keillor at The Writer’s Almanac read Barbara’s Poem “Weather Systems.”