Sarah Jane Barnett
Hue & Cry Press
Sarah Jane Barnett’s collection of poems and prose poems had me stunned. We begin with voyeurism – the illogical extreme of observation; we’re plunged into situations that are almost uncomfortable. But the writing is cool and calm, so we trust where we’re heading.
There are strange collisions and contrasts in the works, people bump into one another – as the title of the collection warns/informs us. People are awkward. Watching people can be awkward, we can be made to feel awkward, and in this case, since we’re guided by the narrator/s, we’re able to see other people feeling awkward. We see, too, how people comfort one another, or should comfort one another; or how they might like to – sometimes they’re incapable of offering what should be an urge.
There’s a huge amount of heart here too. And that might seem strange at first, given the plunge into peeking in on situations, but what makes A Man Runs Into A Woman so very good, so very strong, is the pacing, slow, deliberate, hovering. And when we’re focussed in on something – for almost just a bit too long – that’s where the real heart is shown, the empathy of the writer. A clever juxtaposition in and around the voyeurism.
The middle section of the book features a series of “death-row” poems, real life crimes are explored from the point of view of the police reports and then the death-rowers, remorseful, stunned, stammering and stumbling for forgiveness, barely capable of articulation in some cases.
It’s a wonderful twist on reportage. Here the idea of the non-fiction novel is given over to non-fiction poetic vignettes.
Those investors chose wisely.
I find it hard to hold onto poetry these days – I come and go. It comes and goes. It mostly goes. It mostly stays away from me. These pieces are already indelibly etched; I felt the weight of many of them on first-read. Returning to them hasn’t felt like the chore it sometimes can with poetry. There’s subtle craft here. The powers of observation on display so commanding, always believable; at times I was frightened by the depth of this work.
That uneasy feeling made me happy. I felt proud – for the work, because of the work. For the writer. And the writing. That’s a great feeling to have as a reader.