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Poetry Canadian


The Architecture of UNB

by (author) John Barton

Goose Lane Editions
Initial publish date
Apr 2014
Canadian, LGBT
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2014
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2014
    List Price

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"Polari," from the Italian "polare" ("to talk") is a coded language, originating in the U.K. and dating as far back as the 16th century. Overheard in outdoor markets, the theatre, fairgrounds, and circuses, it was appropriated by gay men to provide them with cover as well as with a way to assert personal and shared identities. It spread around the English-speaking world via the Royal Navy, the merchant marine, and cruise ships, adding and subverting many foreign-language words — like polari — along the way.

While Polari does not employ this jargon or probe its success as a mode of connection between gay men, the language of Barton's poems may be viewed as an effective tool for communicating a sense of history, politics, and aesthetics. Think of Polari as a cross-sectional scan of a living tree that reveals ring after ring of Barton's experience of language, with the new buds at the tips of its branches adding colour, movement, and ornament.

Most of these poems were written using set forms drawn from Robin Skelton's The Shapes of our Singing: A Comprehensive Guide of Verse Forms and Metres from Around the World (Spokane: Eastern Washington University Press, 2002). While the forms Barton has appropriated are not by themselves the vehicles of a particular sociolect or an anti-language, except, say, of poetry itself, he have nevertheless twisted them to follow the turns of his point of view and aesthetics.

When it comes to time, geography, and subject, Polari covers a lot of ground: from child memories to the frailties and deaths of ageing parents; from Queen Victoria's coronation to the first ascent of Everest; from the October Crisis to the trial of Omar Khadr. The titles of nine poems are borrowed from the Diagram Prize, an award given out by the U.K. magazine, The Bookseller, for the oddest book title of the year. The titles chosen — an example is "Highlights in the History of Concrete" — may sound frivolous, even absurd, but the poems are less or more so. The serious nature of their themes being at odds with their titles gives them an engaging tension, and will be read as signature of his particular brand of polari.

About the author

John Barton has published ten previous collections of poetry and six chapbooks, including, most recently, Balletomane: The Program Notes of Lincoln Kirstein and For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin: Selected Poems, which were respectively published by JackPine Press and Nightwood Editions in 2012. Co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay-Male Poets, he has won three Archibald Lampman Awards, an Ottawa Book Award, a CBC Literary Award, and a National Magazine Award. Since 1980, his poems have appeared in anthologies, magazines, and newspapers across Canada and in the United States, Australia, China, India, and the U.K. Previously a writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library and at the University of New Brunswick, he has taught at the Sage Hill Writing Experience, the Banff Centre, and the University of Victoria. From 1985 to 2003, he worked as a librarian, a production manager, a publications coordinator, and an editor for five national museums in Ottawa, where he edited Vernissage: The Magazine of the National Gallery of Canada, and, in his spare time, Arc Poetry Magazine. He was the poetry editor for Signature Editions from 2005 to 2008 and has been a manuscript editor for Brick Books since 2010. He has lived in Victoria since 2004, where he edits The Malahat Review. Polari is his eleventh collection of poetry.

John Barton's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"John Barton's poetry swings with lyric intelligence and worldly brilliance, like a contemporary Auden. Polari is absolutely beguiling."

D.A. Powell

"In Polari, Barton weaves an impressive soundscape, clothing old bones — like the villanelle, sonnet, glosa, and many others — with fresh clobber. With all the refined heft of a queer life lived long in language, this book pumps with the vitality of sex, thought, and rhyme. Sometimes traditional, sometimes blue, sometimes zhooshy and new, this is poetry plated for pleasure."

Shane Rhodes

"In Polari, John Barton has plugged language into all sorts of power sources, exploring the intricacies of structure and design through the politics of identity. Whether he's writing about sex or marmalade-making, he stares down desire, delving into needs 'laid bare for each seductive watcher and the one he watches.' These are opulent, daring poems."

Barry Dempster

"Barton's collection, written in lush language that is as entrancing to behold as Polari once was in a forgotten place and time, is a major accomplishment for its variety and poetic dexterity. ... Barton's work is a brilliant example of grace on display, from a poet who continues to illuminate his literary powers for those of us who consider poetry as alive and essential as air and dance."

<i>The Bay Area Reporter</i>

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