ChordSarabande Books (2015)
A fastidious monster—is there such a thing? Rick Barot is such a thing. He seems to take everything in, to devour, but what he gives back has been refined and clarified. In “Syntax,” he writes of the sky as “a white light painful to the eye / because it is not specific.” Barot wants to be specific, wants to get things right. Here, he has. He’s a fine observer who knows when to apply torque to what he sees and when to let his images speak for themselves. I loved that I could feel him wrestling to understand his life, even while the poems make clear that he knows the limits of understanding. The fluidity with which Barot walks this difficult line between meaning and certainty makes these poems feel more born than made. This is a fantastic book.
Barot’s new book Chord opens with the stunning poem “Tarp” and its disconcerting reminder that no piece of cloth is big enough, real enough to cover a wave, a war, or “a broken / oil well miles under the ocean.” In the same way, no art can begin to encapsulate the difficulties that the natural world and the world of human desire represent. Chord examines—subtly, and with great beauty—the limits of representational art and language, specifically our need to aestheticize suffering, even as we know this same desire also serves to blunt or negate human trauma. This is the paradox that Barot explores: our desire to express the facts of this world while recognizing that we lack—will always lack—the right language for it. Chord is a smart, moving, and elegant collection that takes none of its hard-won assertions for granted.