Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark bars and Questionable Cafes
By Rain Graves
Cemetery Dance Publications 2008
Poetry is hell; specifically, writing poetry is a hell to endure to create something that is terribly personal but to the point it twists itself inside out to achieve a universal state. Poetry, or ‘good’ poetry, requires a lot of discipline, akin to the highly skilled and highly lucky serial killers of fiction and fact. Poetry itself is a dance between disciplined skill and luck. Knowing what to include and what not include is hard to decide. It’s rough and sloppy work gets you caught quickly.
Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes by Rain Graves (Cemetery Dance Publications) contains both the precision of a serial killer and the indulgences of a pleasure god. There are horrors both monstrous and man, pain both born in the lightless night’s imagination and in a day that is all too real.
“Skin flaps like a matchbook,
he says, and when I open
them up, it’s easier
to see the fire, however
Dormant, on the inside.”
-Slick Eddie Dog One-Fifty One, pg.189
Both noted horror literature dark entity Jack Ketchem and cemetery spurned comic author and novelist Neil Gaiman both inhabit the covers of this publication as well an in between the sheets, with poems both about and dedicated to the authors. I find it fitting as Ketchem and Gaiman represent the subject matter range I found in Graves’ poetry. There were moments of the horror of everyday life, accessible and hyper-believable, similar to the finest of Ketchem’s work. Other poems reached across the span of gods and planets.
Admittedly, I’m keener to the reality’s smaller workings when it comes to poetry. I’ve never been one for epic even before the word’s sheen was worn away to bone by the last three years’ overuse. When Graves reaches for the beyond in her works, I found myself, more times than not, on the ground, watching everything play out overhead. The show is on a grand scale but only until she brings it to a lower, human level, revealing a rich emotional content to her writing, only then do I find her talent. An example can be found in her poem “October 14” where she utilizes a voice that is both admirable and celebratory regarding a friend surviving getting hit by a car:
cannot cure your strength
it never occurred to you
just never occurred.”
-October 14, pg. 65
What a wonderful concept, that ‘strength’ is something to be ‘cured.’ Graves has a slight-of-hand mind that can catch you off guard with a slick twist of a word. Graves’s wit is to be admired but also, she has a sincere voice in her work and that alone is worth all the gold in the world.
Will you step off his chest
For just a moment,
So he will call?”
Having something for everyone is a double-edged sword here. Barfodder’s expansive diversity means that there is going to be something that you will enjoy when reading this tome. However, this is a large book. Three to five individual books could be divided from this single collection, each with its own uniting theme and voice. Graves has the talent to possess a multitude of voices, each chosen for the right poem. But this massive collection of 100+ poems is something I usually would expect of a retrospective of a poet who has passed on. Thankfully, Rain Graves is still alive, and that means there will be more writing from her. I look forward to that.
Do pick up Barfodder, for it will be a great companion for this Halloween season. Be it a cover-to-cover read or a random thumb finding a specific page, there’s something for every day.