Book: John Wall Barger, Pain-Proof Men
Publisher: Palimpsest Press
Publication date: 2009
The premise of this book of poems is a complex metaphor so grand and evocative that at first it can make you feel a little at sea. The title is a literal English translation of the word fakir, the Sufi holy man who flaunts an ability (granted him through devotion to God) to endure pain.
The fakir sings the names of God, and God is in the details. In Pain-Proof Men the details are precious little Whovilles filled with tragic history and vague longings.
Although I love poetry I don’t like most modern poetry, not because I’m anti-modern but because I don’t like most of any era’s poetry. I can appreciate a lot of what’s been handed down but what’s been handed down?unlike much of the doggerel lauded in its day?has stood the test of time.
We poetry lovers of the modern (and/or postmodern) era come across many poems that will not stand the test of time, poems recommended to us by those with some kind of stake in them (yes, poetry has stakeholders), poems whose charms are based on currently fashionable innovations and nothing else.
Along comes John Wall Barger with this series of stream-of-consciousness vignettes, within the imagist tradition but not squarely (too much action and not enough sang-froid).
Much as I tried, I couldn’t find one speck of guile in these poems, not one instance of posing or pedantry; just crystal pools of rare insight with an imagic exactness as vivid as can be rendered in words, as close to the Thing Itself as art can approximate.
In this context self-immolation, crucifixion, masochistic performance art (both sublime and ridiculous), and the wounds that we pass down wholesale from one generation to the next, bring the individual to the place where it can step outside itself and observe:
This man is crying.
Scissors tremble in his hand.
I watch him.
A correct and aesthetically perfect map of personal despair, with hope lurking in the margins.
Pain-Proof Men manifests six of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for books well worth reading: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it gives me tools enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; 3) it makes me want to be a better artist; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it is about attainment of the true self.
Pain-Proof Men was recommended to The Mindful Bard by Henri Bailley of Lansdowne, Nova Scotia.