Barry Spacks Dave Smith - Essay

Dave Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Barry Spacks is not one of those writers one hears about at the literary watering holes, though he is the author of two novels and, now, a fourth book of poems, Imagining a Unicorn. His method of handling a poem is generally to tame it to a traditional form, to rhyme, to statement, to petite jokes and multiple ironies…. [A poem such as "I Will"] might as easily have been written by Wilbur, Nemerov, or Ciardi…. If we are too prone to write off such decorous virtues as symmetry, wit, sensibility, it may be that our sense of an actual life is abused by such paper-scratching.

Yet we have need of court jesters as well as priests and we do ourselves a disservice to junk humor and intelligence, craft and music. If we still derive, as I argue, pleasure from memorable sounding words (the testament of history is still comfortably on the side of the angels of verse), then Spacks is often as good as those I have lumped him with. Sometimes better. I know of few more beautiful poems of desperation than his "Who Then Is Crazy" (in Teaching The Penguins To Fly). Spacks is, sui generis, a poet of the cityscape, of manner and style…. He is feisty, too, as stylists usually are. But Spacks is also capable of a wild and sudden glare directly into the heart of things and he is talented enough to make the art serve his seeing. "The Pale Ones," for example, is a fine poem about "basic creatures" we dream back to us. My favorite poem in this book pits what Spacks, as artist, represents against a student committed to passion and his own way, a student killed hang-gliding…. [It is a] loving elegy…. If, in Spacks, we get less of the Jamesian "full fact" than we desire, if we do not get heaven itself, he provides us with some splendid waystations for which we should give a proper thanks. (p. 32)

Dave Smith, "Dancing through Life among Others: Some Recent Poetry from Younger American Poets," in The American Poetry Review (copyright © 1979 by World Poetry, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Dave Smith), Vol. 8, No. 3, May-June, 1979, pp. 29-33.∗