Book Review: Barbarian Seasons by David Blair


Barbarian Seasons by David Blair
Madhat Press
Cheshire, Ma 01225


Barbarian Seasons by David Blair off Madhat Press is a lucid meditation on place and family life as a teacher and poet living in the New England Area. Whether speaking of beaches, ornate architecture, the grave of Robert Creeley, Blair finds the powers of nature and time gracefully and whimsically leveled off by the power of creativity and a genuine love of the earth and mankind.

“It is almost unfair how much pleasure David Blair takes in walking around and thinking. Unfashionably free of self-seriousness, his work calls the world it sees poetry mainly because he loves to talk about it.” Katie Peterson writes of Blair’s work.

While the expected poetic brooding is there, where there is dreariness or death there is also life however imperfect. Blair carries this out gracefully in mental scrawls through the self and the many layers of consciousness that sometimes have explicit intention, other times there is an impenetrability.

Take the short poem “Somebody was Believable”:

“Somebody was believable, Olive Oil. At the farmer’s market,
so many arms with permanent tattoo schmutz on them,
part of me will always think, out-of-tune out of step.”

What does this poem mean? Perhaps the constant self-referential meditation is the point to this poem. Yet I have a ton of tattoos. So to think deeply about this poem is to try to bring yourself into the poet’s perspective. To my mind, Blair performs this poetic task as to make the reading an active poetic experience. And it is an active, pleasurable experience.

Breaking these poems down are a pleasure and the nature and landscapes Blair describes are as vivid and sensorial as walking the landscapes themselves. So if you are distancing particularly hard this summer (which I support) pick up Blair’s book to take a mini-New England vacation.

The formality shows up in a way that is honed and makes space for improvisation as a poet and a person. If a poet’s job is to make space, then Blair accomplishes this and then some. However, sometimes trying to break this informality, parts of Barbarian Seasons come off as overly whimsical for better or worse.

Blair is a poet akin to Robert Lowell’s later work, most notably the 1956 work “Life Stories” that ushered in the topic of the family into American poetry. While this topic might not be for everyone, it is not a topic wisely ignored by the American poet today and Blair provides in Barbarian Seasons a pleasurable read and gracefully scratches the surface of his consciousness so that the writer can peer in and sleuth around. Could this hole have been wider? I would like to see more of what Blair is thinking and writing for sure, but there is a cool arms-length mystery that is attractive for young writers to emulate.

Perhaps his next collection will give us a wider glimpse into his thoughts and feelings. I will come with my microscope next time.


Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.

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