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Bar Book: Poems and Otherwise Hardcover – June 7, 2010
The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more
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While the barmaid tells her tale, half-shielded from the bar underworld by the plank on which she practices her craft, the footnotes sweep us along as she herself is swept off her feet by romance, courtship, and marriage. A service professional is seduced into servitude. "'And what,'/quoth she, 'of the mothers?'/And answered you, 'Who cares?'" The poems, too, mask and unmask the story of divorce. In the world of imagination that reigns, Sheehan's "otherwise" of the title takes full flight here as this fictional family falls apart. In pyrotechnics.
Yet all is not lost. Enter the infant Marguerite, who carries "this taint we call life," and love. More than anything, this book is infused with love: of lyric, music, and literature, as well as the literal child. The world-wise barmaid retires, becomes a keeper of books, her door closed to all but her child "who knows the secret knock" and sits "reading in her chair." Sheehan is a great reader as well as writer. There is no higher praise nor activity than reading here. And this book repays every one.
While there was much to admire in ORIENT POINT, Julie Sheehan's second collection and winner of the Barnard Poetry Prize, THE BAR BOOK nearly knocked me off my metaphoric stool. There's been no dissipation of its predecessor's formal and technical expertise; yet Sheehan's high-gloss polish now bears water-rings, lipsticked cocktail napkins, and the additional detritus of drinkers. The marred wooden slab should segregate them--the Served--from Servers like herself, but the breaking of ranks, i.e. fraternization, also occurs. Hence love with a Suffering Bastard (first known by the drink he orders), then marriage, then a pregnant belly that becomes an obstruction for co-workers, then motherhood, then divorce.
The military reference above is intentional: Lt. General Petraeus plays a role in Sheehan's cast of characters, if only via a document titled "Counterinsurgency." The General himself is undeniably real, of course, though 's second epigraph claims that "the talking cocktails" are the collection's sole non-fictional characters. These include a junkie who orders Mudslides he never spills, drops, or drinks; though among the most memorable imbibers remain the first poem's faux reluctant guzzler of Brandy Stingers. A wary, wise veteran of mixology and, like the General's former employer, originally from Texas, she delivers what we might call a condensed war story of courtship and widowhood.
The (female) Texan's chronicle functions as a prelude for the banns that are later called in THE BAR BOOK, also a prose poem called "Liturgy of the Hours.Read more ›