Raising Eyebrows

Raising Eyebrows by Gary BarwinGary Barwin
Coach House Books ($16.95)

by M. David Dunn

The trend toward new realism may have swept the strange from North American literature, but spontaneous transformations can occur at any time. Think of poor old Gregor Samsa. A metamorphosis like that can really mess with a person's sense of self. In his most recent collection, poet Gary Barwin contemplates the unexpected weirdness of the mundane. Although he doesn't wake up as an insect, Barwin does follow the slip and tangle of thought to non-logical resolution when he observes in the title poem:

your right eyebrow
becomes you as a child
won't stop hitting
your left eyebrow as you drive yourself
to the hatbox where
you will be born before dinner
thanks! you say to no one in particular
and they don't reply.

There are five sections in Raising Eyebrows, each in their turn warping somatic and thematic assumptions. In Barwin's world, the body is a trickster, capable of anything, driven by a consciousness other than will. Basho is re/uninvented:

old pond leaping
into mind of frog

old frog leaping—
the mind of frog


old fr spl po ash og nd

(from "Ukiah Pond: frogments from the frag pool")

Bashed by language, holding on by the width of his pen, Barwin seems to subscribe to André Breton's assertion that language exists to be put to "surrealist use," and does so without faltering. As he writes in "Red Cave", one of the collection's longer poems, "your ear has now taken my mouth's place"—all in all a fair trade.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2003