Barry Spacks

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Roger Dickinson-Brown

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Barry Spacks's Teaching the Penguins to Fly is a … sophisticated and professional book, at least in the superficial senses of the words…. [Here one finds] the tender clutter, the good beer and coffee quotidian of anybody's life, no further shaped nor understood.

Far too often Spacks has no subject…. But this most valuable and difficult poetry requires a special emotional and intellectual comprehension, and Spacks rarely achieves it. (pp. 379-80)

Although he usually writes in none, Spacks sometimes uses one of several forms, and sometimes well. In "Comparing X-Rays" the iambic rhythms are the plodding, dull movements, imagined by people who have not read Momaday, Elizabeth Daryush, Frost, Cunningham, Stevens, Tate, Ransom, and Winters, to be inherent in a twentieth-century accentual-syllabic line; and the fourth line falls apart in an uninteresting way, perhaps in the struggle for rhyme…. (p. 380)

Most of the best poems occur in the final section of the book. These are often simultaneously curious and unpretentious poems, written in what at least approaches real prosody—often in the new unrhymed four-stress podic line ("Foolfish"). Several of these poems successfully personify animals, plants, or abstractions….

These poems skirt the danger of excessive allusiveness or, alternatively, irrelevant circumstance—a common problem in modern art which causes it to age poorly. "After the 'I Ching'," although damaged by several of these faults, also musters Spacks's virtues: a real subject, a counterpoint of grammatical phrase against verse line, and enough verse measure and rhyme to permit the poem to amount to something more than a striking fragment. It is the best in the book…. (p. 381)

Roger Dickinson-Brown, "The Second Godine Poetry Chapbook Series" (copyright, 1978, by Roger Dickinson-Brown), in The Southern Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, April, 1978, pp. 375-89.∗

[Most of the poems in Imagining a Unicorn are in Barry Spacks's] favorite métier: a witty or serious reflection on some comic event or person in everyday living…. Although the poet is unsparingly honest, humor, sympathy, and tenderness are more characteristic than such a vitriolic, though deserved, outburst of scorn as "Malediction." "Hand of the mind" and "Gerard" are unforgettable for lyrical simplicity and dramatic transformation of the past, respectively. Noteworthy are the character portraits of Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, and Timothy Holm. But it is the title poem that best represents the author's capacity for combining symbolism, poetic language, rhythm, and deep insight. By comparison with it, many of the other poems seem slight and undeveloped. Interesting and observant as they are, they depend too often on conversational tone and diction, leaving the reader hungry for music, form, and vision.

"Language and Literature: 'Imagining a Unicorn'," in Choice (copyright © 1978 by American Library Association), Vol. 15, No. 10, December, 1978, p. 1374.

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