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In David Barber’s third collection of poetry, the past makes its presence felt from first to last. Drawing on a wealth of eclectic sources and crafted in an array of nonce forms, these poems range across vast stretches of cultural and natural history in pursuit of the forsaken, long-gone, and unsung.
Here is the stuff of lost time unearthed from all over: ballyhoo and murder ballad, the lacrimarium and the xylotheque, the Game of Robbers and the Indian Rope Trick, the obsolete o’o, the old-school word hoard, sunshowers and beaters and breaker boys. Here, to mark the twilight of print and type, are gleanings and borrowings from a mixed bag of throwback bound volumes: The Magic Moving Picture Book, Mandeville’s Travels, The Golden Bough, Franklin Arithmetic, The Millennial Laws of the Shakers, A Conjuror’s Confessions.
Here too are guiding spirits whose like will not pass this way again: Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club; Henry Walter Bates in darkest Amazon; George Catlin among the Choctaw; Little Nemo in Slumberland; Yogi Berra in all his oracular glory. Reveling in vernacular lingo of every vintage even while brooding on dark ages without end, Secret History chronicles a world of long shadows and distant echoes that bears more than a passing resemblance to our own.
DAVID BARBER is the author of Wonder Cabinet and The Spirit Level, which received the Terrence Des Pres Prize from TriQuarterly Books. He is poetry editor of The Atlantic, where he has also worked as a staff editor and online literary editor. His poetry has been anthologized in Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing, edited by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. His work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writing Conference, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and PEN New England.
"Barber approaches the scrap heap of common discourse as a connoisseur ready to celebrate the vitality of lexicons and vocabularies so encased in custom and context that everyone else has mistaken them (and by implication the aspects of our lives that they evoke) for dead." —Langdon Hammer, poetry editor for The American Scholar