John’s recent publications display a poet and essayist at the height of his powers. Which one is your favourite?
“We need more writers with bite. We have lived in the flatlands too long,” writes John Barnie in one of his ‘observations’ (“Art in the Flatlands’). And bite he delivers.
Tsunami Days is a vital collection of essays for those prepared to engage with its unflinching observations. Ranging across politics, history, culture, ecological disaster, the meaning of truth, poetry, what we mean by identity and more… Barnie shares a window onto the world that is both erudite and particular. Barnie asks us to think, consider and dig deeper, but most of all he asks that we “…live richly among our secondary self-created meanings, while recognising them for what they are. To face without flinching the nullity of the great void.” (‘Varieties of Meaning’)
Serious and sometimes tinged with despair at humanity’s perverse race into self-destruction, captured in striking imagery that lingers, at heart, A Report to Alpha Centauri is a eulogy. Sharp, urgent and ultimately humane, this is not poetry that any of us should turn away from.
In Afterlives, Barnie deploys his skills of perception to respond to a group of paintings in Peter Lord’s art collection. With characteristic freshness and humanity, Barnie inhabits the images, speaking from within or engaging with their subjects, and as he does so, we are taken on a narrative journey ‘through thick cracking varnish’, revealing layers of history and the mores that accrete into hierarchies, prejudices, injustices and the inability to read one another across cultural gaps.
Rooted in landscape and character, Sunglasses shines an uncomfortable light onto issues of ecological degradation, mass extinction and mortality, yet remains lyrical and wry. the poet shakes a fist at the aging process, at the disappearance of species and at the insanities of modern politics and consumerist society, yet there is no note of bitterness. Acerbic? Sometimes. Cold? Never.
Departure Lounge returns to the theme of mortality with characteristic insight and honesty. Concerned not only with how we characterise and cope with death, but with a sense of urgency for all that is being lost, culturally or ecologically, this is deeply intelligent collection. Accessible, yet exacting; lyrical, but without a wasted word, these poems unspool in single, unassailable sentences that ring with truth.
Deeply perceptive, always dipping below the surface of things, Wind Playing with a Man’s Hat combines a plaintive honesty about change, mortality and darkness with a precise and lyrical vision that also sees the light. Never sentimental, there is a keenness of wit that penetrates to the heart of things, the poems uncurling in single sentences that reverberate with gentle, but profound moments of epiphany.
With work from 1984-2033, the poetry in Sea Lilies celebrates the natural world whilst also tackling the increasingly destructive impact of humans on that world. This ecological and sceptical outlook is aligned with a deep affinity with, and boundless curiosity about, nature and our precarious place in it. Notable for both its breadth of form and its depth of thought.
The King of Ashes won a Welsh Book of the Year Award. Reflecting the experience of growing up after the War on the edge of the Black Mountains in Gwent, the essays in this highly acclaimed collection range across Wales, nature, the blues, contemporary poetry.
You can find a complete list of John’s publications here and information about Wired to the Dynamo, a celebratory anthology in honour of John’s work here.