Posts Tagged ‘Guerilla Poetics Project’

One of the great things about having this site is that I can share some of the books I love.  I always feel compelled to say that I’m not a reviewer.  I’m a fan.  I’m like the buddy who knocks on your door and says, You’ve just gotta read this one.

Since I’m trapped in this cyber pen, I’m even better than your buddy.  I can’t drink all your beer or stay at your house for a month.

So, please open the door!  Here’s a poet you’ve just gotta read.



justin.barrett (aka Justin Barrett) is one of the best poets of our time.  Is it too bold to make that statement about one poet among thousands?  Nope.  I’ll say it again.  He’s one of the best.

justin.barrett is well known in the small press world, as well as on the internet.  He was nominated for a Push Cart and is very active (and is a featured poet) with the Guerilla Poetics Project.  You can see some of his publications HERE.

I recently had the pleasure of reading two of Justin’s books, which have been published by Propoganda Press:  (untitled) and nowhere, UTAH.

Both books are equally beautiful.  But for a bit of brevity in this quick-bloggy world, I’ll focus on (untitled).

I love the variety in this book, which is evident in all of Justin Barrett’s work.  There is humor.  But there is also tenderness and pain.  Regardless of style or variety, each poem always points back to the very real world of human beings.

I usually notice humor first, because I admire people who can make me laugh. Barrett’s poem, heredity, is one such example.  When recalling his mother’s words about how he could be anything he wanted to be when he grew up, the narrator assesses his life and concludes:

“i don’t ever recall

wanting to be

my Uncle Jimmy.”


Justin Barrett’s humor has a deeper side, of course.  But I love a poet who can make me melancholy and make me laugh at the same time.

It’s also interesting to note that Justin works as a chemist.  I’m always impressed by people who can live in both the scientific and the creative world.  That is really how it should be.

The scientific side of Barrett can be seen in (untitled).  The voice is not the stereotypical cold voice we often associate with science.  It is beautiful.  It realizes the larger picture.  It places us as members of this awesome and strange place we call the universe.

These thoughts go hand-in-hand with the narrator’s relationships to the world of love and human beings.  In his poem, the Big Crunch, the narrator hopes the universe will contract back to a singularity:

“where every place in

the universe

will once again be

the same



where you

and I will have

no choice but

to be together



Another awesome poem in this book is theory of everything.  A poet who couples scientific theory and love is tops on my list.

The voice that speaks of the narrator’s love is genuine.  It is one of real relationships. We can all relate to the themes in (untitled).  Barrett portrays the joy, tragedy, and loss of being human.  Just like life, the emotions I feel when reading this book are varied.  The same poet who makes me smile with a “husband and wife” poem called red boxer briefs also breaks my heart with a poem about suicide called hoping for an answer.

I admire these surprises in Barrett’s work.  He sees comparisons that many people (even  many poets) don’t see.  In it’s kind of like being a poet, the narrator compares a poet’s life to a surfer between waves.  The best part are the lulls

“in between the




it is only



his board


and the infinite

gallons of



beneath him.”


That should be required reading for all new poets.  The best times are not when we receive applause or go to events.  The best times aren’t even when we’ve just written the “masterpiece” of our lives.  The best times are the lulls, the times when we’re alone with the keyboard or pen, floating in that infinite ocean, trying to catch the next good poem.

justin.barrett catches many great poems.  He has a keen eye for detail.  His lines are sharp and professional.  Yet they breathe.  In what matters most, Barrett brilliantly sums up a poet’s life.  When William Carlos Williams noticed a red wheelbarrow, what matters most isn’t the fact that Williams was in a room with a young patient who just died.  What matters most is the fact “that he noticed.”

You can check out (untitled) by justin.barrett HERE.  Believe me, I know the economy’s rough.  But it’s very affordable and well worth the low price.

Nowhere, UTAH is a small art book.  By small, I mean it is two inches by three inches in size.  But here’s one time when size really doesn’t matter.  The words inside pack a huge punch.  I truly mean it when I say it is as beautifully written as (untitled).  I was blown away by the poems inside, and I recommend it highly.  Plus, for $3.00, even grunts like me can scrape up enough change to order.  You can see Nowhere, UTAH by clicking HERE.

You can also check out some more samples of justin.barrett’s work by clicking on his website HERE.

Both Nowhere, UTAH and (untitled) are published by Propoganda Press.  leah angstman is the editor and does excellent work.  Check out her entire catalog of work by clicking HERE.

Thank you, Justin, for allowing me to talk about your work.  I’m glad you’re around to notice the world.  I’m glad you’re around to share this beautiful, crazy ride with us all.

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The darkness of the world often makes me want to howl at the moon.  Starving children in Haiti.  A woman whose life has been shattered by rape.  A man bleeding on the side of the road.  The list of injustice and suffering goes on and on.  All of the hurt sometimes seems too much to handle.

But every now and then, something comes along to shatter the darkness.  A voice of humanity, one that says, hell yeah, it can be dark, but I’ve got to keep going.  That’s what the poetry of Christopher Cunningham means to me.

I’ve been a fan of Christopher Cunningham’s work for quite a while now.  He’s certainly not a newcomer and has had several publications, including Screaming in Some Beauty, Flowers in the Shadow of the Storm, Thru the Heart of This Animal Life, A Measure of Impossible Humor, and many more.

In A SOUND TO DRIVE AWAY THE COMING DARKNESS, Cunningham once again displays a mastery of language with clean, smooth lines.  Yet each line is lyrical, each verse is a beautiful song unto itself.  Already, I have dog eared the book from reading it so many times.

The poems in this book are not “starry eyed,” nor do they deny the darkness.  In his poem outsiders, the dog is behind a fence on a short leash in a cold rain.

“there is no help


the darkness

of the deluge.”

But I love the fact that the dog does not whimper.  He does not curl up and die.  The dog’s lungs are strong.  Even when he battles the wind and the thunder and no one hears, he does not stop.  And as the powerful ending of the poem tells us,

“the chain


when the lightning


I will never forget the image of that shining chain in the darkness.

The poems in this book realistically portray the darkness, the human search for answers, the human quest to find the light.  In looking for meaning where there is none, the sun is

“an ugly tumor

in the

baleful sky.”

Yet the narrator is alive.

“that is



in this




Cunningham’s poem, the capacity to be stunned by grace, reveals to the reader the sound that will drive away the coming darkness.  Laughter!  Who could not love that?  Who could not love a poet who has the capacity to laugh when peering into the barrel of the loaded darkness?

Cunningham’s sense of humor can also be seen in poems like the salad is too damn wet.  We can all relate to those disappointments of life, and the human reaction:

“we want the best,

we want the topnotch,

we want the giddiness,

we want the joy.

and we are almost certain


nothing can




and then it does.”


Still, we eat the soggy salad anyway.  Because that is what we must do.

I cannot help but think of one of the most powerful scenes in western literature when I read this book–the final scene from The Grapes of Wrath.  Even when the water is rising and all is lost, there is the struggle to survive.  The small ones do not give up.  In Cunningham’s world, a homeless Vietnam vet makes choppers out of discarded soda cans.  A murder of crows rises up through the gloom like a black sun.  There is hope.  There is life.

I could write an essay about each one of the wonderful poems in this book.  However, I should let you check it out for yourself.  A SOUND TO DRIVE AWAY THE COMING DARKNESS can be purchased  at alt-current.com for ($6 + $2 shipping in US, $3 shipping outside of US) by clicking HERE.

You can also send cash, check, or money order (made out to Alternating Current) to:

Alternating Current PO Box 398058, Cambridge MA 02139 USA, or Paypal the complete amount to the email address alt.current@gmail.com.

You can also check out Christopher’s work at Guerilla Poetics Project.

A SOUND TO DRIVE AWAY THE COMING DARKNESS is well worth the low price.  I tip my hat to you, Christopher Cunningham.  Your words have been a great light during some of my darkest days.

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I’m not the first person to blog about the Guerilla Poetics Project, and I doubt I’ll be the last. I found their website recently while surfing the net, and my first thought was, “Where have I been?” Ah, I’m always late for everything. But just in case there’s one person out there who hasn’t heard, please kick off your shoes and pull up a chair.

The idea behind the Guerilla Poetics Project is relatively simple. They print short poems on small cards called broadsides. The broadsides are mailed to poets and “operatives” who hide the poems inside target books at bookstores and libraries. Nobody is hurt. Nothing gets destroyed. But the poetry is smuggled out into the world for people to see. Woot!

People who find the poems are given a website where they can register the poem they find.

I managed to scrape up twenty five bucks (printing costs, okay?), and I’m tapping my foot and waiting for the broadsides to come in the mail. If you don’t have the entire amount, I’m guessing you could get together with a few friends to join. It would also be a great project for a community workshop or even…gasp…in the classroom.

I’m not sure about all the details, but there is a lot of information and a forum for questions on their website. Take a look at their link and be sure to read the manifesto and all the information first.


Before you join, please do keep one thing in mind. This is not about self promotion. I think you can submit a couple of poems if you join, but you may never get chosen. I’m still learning, so I’m not the person to ask. It looks as if the operatives can vote on the poems that are chosen for publication.

However, the idea is not to build up a name for ourselves, but to share worthwhile poetry with the world. From the poetry I have read on the site, these poets are very worthy and have paid their dues. Their poems blew me away when I read them. There is a list of poets on the website, and a lot of excellent links.

One of the poets featured on the broadsides, William Taylor Jr., is excellent. He was also featured in a very interesting interview by Scot Young at his website, Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers. Scot’s interview with William Taylor, Jr. is at this link: http://midwestpoet.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/willaim-taylor-jr-interview/

Now, come on, Guerilla dudes. Hurry up with the broadsides! I’m ready to put on my gloves and slide down to the university bookstore. If they haven’t banned me again.

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