Barrett Warner, Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? Reviewed by Alan C. Reese


Barrett Warner, Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? Somondoco Press, 2016, ISBN 978-0985389895. 66 pages, $14.95

…..Enter at your own risk. Barrett Warner wants to kill you. He wants to club you with a metaphor, stab you with an image, and shoot you with a rhetorical device. Let him. Figurative wounds are rarely fatal and have the opposite effect of literal wounds.
…..Someone said that Sharon Olds must have a metaphor machine in her basement so that she can crank them out at will. Mr. Warner must shop at the same literary outlet because his metaphors can be heart stopping. There are “varicose highways,” foals “born the size of a cat,” someone “smiling as if he’d just had lunch with a flamenco dancer who’d burst into flames,” a wistful persona mulling over “The Yellow Pages of everything I might have been.” At first, the book feels like a bizarro world stumbled into through some strange portal, but then it becomes recognizable and familiar, but brighter and clearer in the sharp and uncompromising lens of its author.
…..Do not read this book at night. It will disturb your sleep. Do not read this book at the beach. It may cause drowning. Read this book where there is plenty of light and wide open spaces away from bodies of water so that the darkness will not swallow the hapless reader and there will be somewhere to run.
…..Warner is the Stephen Wright of prosody, and his poems, at times, feel like one liners strung together like Christmas lights put up for a poetry party. “When Flowers die, do you send people?” “I cut things down./When things are down, I cut them up.” Structurally they are pieced together, full of surprising disjointed non-sequiturs delivered in a deadpan, droll manner that hit like an unexpected slap or a blow from a split bamboo stick delivered by a monk in the meditation hall.
…..The fifty-two poems are gathered together in three sections: “The Bumpy Lane of Your Spine,” “I’m a Radio on Two Legs,” “Sun Spots on the Rialto.” Why the three sections or their clever titles still eludes me, but I am slow of wit. I leave it to those of quicker minds to discern. It may be that the poems need to be contained so that they don’t trample the poor reader like a herd of wild horses. These poems are electrified emotional portraits and observational in nature as opposed to thematic driven. The persona is strongly present and always in a first person mode. They are filled with horses, broken hands and wrists, cars and dolphins, food, and a parade of characters. There is Staci Miller’s boyfriend who smokes cigarettes made out of torn pieces of grocery bags; Bomba, who believes “everyone should order what they want/even if it’s not on the menu;” Mrs. Harrison, “who smells of chalk and dahlias;” Tanya from St. Augustine whose husband sleeps in the garage next to his Mercury; Larry Poodle, just out of jail “who has a thing about fire:” the angel fish of title fame that will not die; Reed, the 32-year-old skateboarder; the Gonzalez brothers, “identical twins in the worst way,” and the cavalcade goes on. But mostly, there is the persona who strays through the poems like a lost dog looking for a home, a persona who also smokes grocery bag cigarettes, drinks kerosene, tries to kill his angel fish, has sex dreams about a woman with a broken neck, loves a crash, wants to make love like a dolphin, and eats wine Jell-O.
…..This book is an amusement park of poems designed to give you an assortment of thrill filled rides, and it delivers. Prepare for a roller coaster, tilt-a-whirl, carousel journey of plunging, spinning, and round and round before you get off dizzy and disoriented from the experience. I am purchasing a strip of tickets as long as my arm and going back for another round. See you on the midway.

© Barrett Warner and Alan C. Reese

Barrett Warner is a rustic who believes the best way to sharpen a blade is to use it against something harsh, Warner has recently won the Salamander fiction prize for his story “Dimension,” and the Tucson Book Festival essay prize for his Tuberculosis essay “My Thousand Year Old Disease.” His poems have won the Princemere, Cloudbank, Chris Toll, and Liam Rector poetry prizes. This year, The Adroit Journal nominated his essay “Three Men and One dead Animal” for a Best of the Net award. Warner is the author of Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? published in 2016 by Somondoco Press in Shepherdstown, WV, and My Friend Ken Harvey (Publishing Genius, 2014). He is a 2016 recipient of an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in the nonfiction category.

Alan C. Reese teaches writing at Towson University. He is the author of the chapbook Reports from Shadowland. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Smartish Pace, Gargoyle, JMWW, The Baltimore Sun, Maryland Poetry Review, Potomac Review, Delaware Review, Welter, Grub Street, Attic, Bicycle Review, Danse Macabre, and the Loch Raven Review

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