"Tony Barnstone unabashedly celebrates bodily joy and pokes the backside of everything prudish and puritanical. He is a poet of profound amusement, a spirit accountant, an heir to Whitman, Basho, and Neruda. He works in many styles, but his hallmark is a deep and truculent honesty, a desire to bring secrets into the open. <i>Impure</i> is a first book to revere."—Rodney Jones
In Tony Barnstone’s first collection of poetry, anxiety and concern with the proliferation of toxic waste, human cruelty, and just plain ugliness are precariously balanced by the power of personal love. He is fascinated by the interconnectedness of everything. "Hair of the Field" shows a young man "mowing" his lawn with a pair of garden shears, thinking of Walt Whitman’s words on grass, of Whitman as grass, then of following the roots of grass—and words—back through the centuries and continents and somehow emerging from this etymological adventure back in his own yard "with [his] hands stained green."
No matter where Barnstone finds himself (a video arcade, a mall eatery, a laundromat), he inspects the people, the flora, the fauna, and the mechanistic devices and bends them into poetry. Blessed with the gift of simultaneous awareness of other creatures, other times, other gods, and the myriad possibilities emanating from each moment, his poems become tender, witty, and scary. In "Ars Poetica," for example, a bird going for its prey appears to be "a black line marked across the sky," and becomes poetry itself: "and I’ve always thought this is the way / the line should leave the page / with extended claws, a sweet and sudden rage."
These are sexy poems, poems with attitude. Writing from the world we actually live in, he searches for scraps of wisdom and spirit, creating a book that is both political and deeply personal.
Tony Barnstone, assistant professor of creative writing and English at Whittier College, is the author of <i>Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry.</i> His other books include <i>Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei </i> (translated with Willis Barnstone and Xu Haixin); <i>The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters</i> (edited and translated with Chou Ping); and <i>Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America </i>(edited with Willis Barnstone).