The title is a literal translation of the Arabic word fakir, which refers to both a Sufi holy man who performs feats of endurance or magic, and a common street beggar who chants the scriptures. In the world of carnivals, a fakir or torture king would go to great lengths to demonstrate his immunity to pain — by, for example, lying on a bed of spikes and then asking an audience member to break a concrete block on his chest with a sledgehammer. The voice that emerges in Pain-Proof Men is that of a derelict who sings the names of God during the day, and moonlights at a circus as a human pincushion at night. The various personas in these poems (all manner of tricksters — from scarecrows, clowns, sailors, John Wayne, Clark Gable, to the confessional poet himself) are men in pain. All, however mythic and powerful, have failed at love and work and life, and feel an overwhelming ache. This human hurt, that connects us all, links the many voices in this multifarious, ludic book.
About the author
John Wall Barger’s work has appeared recently in CV2, The Antigonish Review, and The Malahat Review, and is forthcoming in Grain, Descant and The Best Canadian Poetry 2008. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he teaches English literature part time at Saint Mary’s University. Pain-Proof Men is his first collection of poems.