Reviews & Articles

Green Target, Barrow Street Press, 82 pages  

Review, by Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books, December Exemplars, 2018, Best Books

"Barr is inspired, every page, and fearless. For example, in "Ghost Variations" (on a painting by Joyce Thornburg), we get horrific examples of death and decay but written as if poetry is to fulfill a purpose that cannot be organized. Instead, it must be a force that brings emotion. Perhaps this can come from vivid writing. Perhaps, also, not all dreams are good dreams and not all art is pretty. Whatever the resolve of language, Barr does not shirk from its rescue. There are also moments of illness where the body is betrayed -- a mother who must be put in diapers, a "bulb" under the tongue, chronic fatigue syndrome turns into a Blakean poem infectious with imagery. Barr makes words soulful, and her dreams happen using every element of nature touched with human endeavor -- every grass, every butterfly is named to showcase the wild theater of her imagination."

Review, by Jeff Klebauskas, Cleaver Magazine, Issue 23

"On display in these ekphrastic poems, and in all of Green Target, for that matter, is Barr's desire to identify the tunnels that lie beneath Johns' famous target paintings which double as a visual representation of the connective thought-processes of her poems. . . .The thirty-nine poems that Tina Barr has compiled here bring to light the relations between human and nature, both collaborative and dysfunctional.  The topics touched on demand our attention as they reflect our collective situation regarding humanity's future and how we choose to both observe and potentially empathize with the world around us. . . Green Target offer its collective audience a glimpse at harmony, cooperation, and the pressing need to target both in our own lives."

Review in The Rumpus, by Sarah Freligh, Fall, 2019, excerpt:

It was Wordsworth who first suggested that poetry could be inspired by nature, that a writer could immerse herself in the natural world and, by paying close attention, arrive at a kind of verse that "takes its origins recollected in tranquility." Barr's speaker is an impeccable observer of the natural world, but she is hardly tranquil, especially in the first fraught months of rural life. "One worries in the mountains," she says. Barr's landscapes are violent with life, redolent with nature's teem and seethe: the goldenrod "seeds our heads with bites from some / insect" while brambles' thorns "scrape / bar pins of blood on my forearms." Snakes lurk everywhere--in the grass near walking paths or twined inside of the compost bin: Garter snakes, black and harmless, and copperheads, beautiful and lethal, even in death when its "jaws kept / opening like a Venus Flytrap's mouth." Nature here is its own speeding automobile--it's best to always look both ways and be mindful of where one treads. . . .

The book's trajectory moves through the seasons, but it's less an arc circumscribed by chronology than a series of moods and tones evoked through imagery. Barr is an astonishing image-maker, adept in creating significance through anthimeria: Following a train/truck accident, "cop cars beetled up and down the road" while "oranges bowled all along the railroad." Upon lifting the lid of the compost bin in "Green," the "heat swells toward me," an image that evokes the evils unleashed from Pandora's box as well as viscerally capturing the monstrous nature of a Southern summer. Heat is pervasive and constant in Barr's imagery, a nod perhaps to climate change and its ongoing threat.

Review in Louisiana Literature, by Aisha Sharif (Summer, 2020, 37.1)
Many poems begin with Barr presenting disparate images that are woven together by the end of the poem . . . . In these lines (the poem "Threat"), readers are taken out of the earlier focus on nature and are presented with images of the police, a drowning child, and Muslim men praying in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Yet, these images ... are also reflective of another kind of "nature," the "nature" of ... police surveillance, untimely death, Islamic prayer ..." 
This poem, as with many of the poems in the book, asks us to leap without a net into imagery and observations, to trust that, in the process of understanding how we target and are targeted, the connections will come, that meaning, like nature and death, will always reveal itself. 

Review in The Main Street Rag, by Richard Allen Taylor, Summer 2019, excerpt:

"'Target' is a recurring theme, and gets quite a work-out, as Barr ties her poems to all kinds of targets: victims of violence, discrimination, persecution and greed.  She challenges the reader to ask, who's the target?  And who's doing the targeting?  In some of the poems, these roles are reversed.  If you like surprises, this collection has plenty."

Review in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel: Appalachia Unbroken

"In Green Target (Barr) aims her large heart, keen intellect, and formidable talent on the beauty and brutality of nature, human, animal, and botanic.  These are breathtaking and heartbreaking poems capable of swallowing us whole, each one lyric and lush as her green mountain home."

Reviews below are for Kaleidoscope:
Washington Independent Review of Books, review by Grace Cavalieri: (June, 2015)

Kaleidoscope by Tina Barr. Iris Press. 84 pp.

Kaleidoscope is a great title because we come to poems from angles emotional with color -- a joyful dedication to her art -- always with new possibilities. Each poem is, by design, some elevated ideal on poetry's stage. Here are observations and new awarenesses that make a huge difference. Barr is not interested in public debate or controversial issues; she is not a poet of opposition and struggle. Hers are small hymns, lucid and centralized. Poets all use the same material. It's who they are, as individuals, that makes the stuff of art. She may write of a 'great aunt who slept with her stepfather,' or a 'strangler in the neighborhood' but she turns these into works of lyrical beauty. In "Dessert:"

"...My grandmother's voice, high-boned, drifted in smoke as her legs crossed and uncrossed./ My hands in my velvet lap turned her pearls; I wore/ black patent shoes with a button hard to push through./ Waiters flourished lamb chops; frills dressed their bones./ I chose from a cart. Strawberries nestled in yellow cream, / the fluted edge of pastry, crust like shortbread. / Strawberries glazed under sugar, berries bedded in rows. My grandmother crossed Park, got hit by a car, and thrown."

It takes a champion to write like this -- to house tragedy within the perfect picture of elegance. We need her. We need her imagery. In "Shiny Brite" Barr speaks of the horrors of Nagasaki, the rapes of Okinawa, and transforms with the end stanza, "...My mother changed the subject; her not-love stung in little verbal clots, like milk in a woman/ whose breast burst a white lump the size of a/ summer orange from glands plugged with the burning./ Mandarin oranges grew in Kagoshima./ We found them in the toes of Christmas stockings./ My mother fed me segments in syrup from a can/ on which a Japanese beauty wore a comb, held a fan."

Talk about poetry as a holy act. Barr takes the ugly and makes it beautiful. I guess that's why we call this kind of writing a collaboration with God.

In the Kaleidoscope's Chamber

As I turn the chambered end, the mirrors

seem to stretch the colors as jewels shift,

circling them into wheels of unfolding

flowers; the mind feeds on pattern, incites

us to find it. The chamber fills with purple,

blue bruises, the open jaw of a dead father,

multiplies the tight eyes of liars, orange tubes

of trumpet vine, pink-tipped brushes of mimosa,

filaments sweet as what I concocted in bottles

from a perfume kit as a kid. Green-felt seed pods

of magnolia from which spring tiny hooks like wires,

pine cones, maple burrs. My husband's hands

tab the keys, dicing white and black. My ears

arrange it as music; outside are birds, ushering us in.

American Book Review


Elizabeth Kim

"Tina Barr's second full-length collection of poems. Kaleidoscope, not only renders its titular instrument into a metaphor for the shapes and patterns of everyday life, but also uses it as a kind of lens through which she sees the world. . . . Whether through birds that swoop into the final lines of poems unannounced, flowers that move like mouths, or butterflies that become prayers, Barr invites readers to focus our vision . . . (on) a perceptible design to daily experiences. That design is an intricate and ever-changing one that never ceases to turn, surprise, and confound."  She also said "Barr's poems trace the erratic shifts of the thinking process, never weighing down her lines with heavy-handed seques or explanations."  see November/December 2015 issue for full review

from Poetry International review of Kaleidoscope

"One of the things I admire about Barr's work in this collection is that she rarely tells the reader how to feel or what to think of the ideas she presents. As if to make good on her invitation for readerly participation, Barr's poems often end with a line that offers only conclusion where we might expect explanation. Like a kaleidoscope, she offers an arrangement of colors and asks the reader to find the patterns. A poem called "Dessert" finishes with the statement: "My grandmother crossed Park, got hit by a car, and thrown." But what we are to make of this shocking occurrence, conveyed so plainly, is satisfyingly open-ended. Concluding assertions like this, nearly characteristic of Barr's poetry, are part of what make her work so exciting to read because they stimulate reflection on the part of the reader. . . .Barr's daring combination of emotional distance and depth engage the complexity of her subject."  By Vanessa Loh

Excerpt from Cleaver Magazine review of Kaleidoscope by Jeff Klebauskas, March 2016


"In keeping with the style of strikingly descriptive writing, Barr forces the reader to acknowledge the darkness that so often lucks beneath the surface of human existence not by emphasizing it, but by giving it only a few lines of attention that deliver a heavy blow to the reader's emotions.  One simply needs to retrace her creative steps to see that these dark plot twists have been a staple of her work for quite some time. . . . It is necessary to look at Tina Barr's prior work to see how far she has come as a writer.  Her vision, or "Gathering Eye" if you will, is alive and well in all of her poetry, but never has the scope been as broad as it is in Kaleidoscope."

Excerpt of review for Kaleidoscope from Hayden's Ferry Review

"Tina Barr begins her latest collection of poems, Kaleidoscope (from Iris Press), with a perfect sonnet, "In the Kaleidoscope's Chamber," which ushers the reader into her colorfully patterned world. But, rather than using the kaleidoscope as a mere toy or object of whimsy, Barr's speaker sees it as a truth device:


            "The chamber fills with purple,

            blue bruises, the open jaw of a dead father,

            multiplies the tight eyes of liars, orange tubes

            of trumpet vine, pink-tipped brushes of mimosa,

            filaments sweet as what I concocted in bottles

            from a perfume kit as a kid."


Barr's speaker smartly ends these fourteen lines with the calming yet cinematic, "My ears arrange it as music; outside are birds, ushering us in." This ushering from nature leads to "Blue Rose" and "Blue Fawn," two poems that use the kaleidoscope metaphor to create shifts in color. Barr skillfully takes a color to concoct not only a new color, but also a fresh, unexpected twist in the poems. Barr's speaker withholds the blue in "Blue Rose" by starting out with the green of lettuce to the sensory details of vinegar, thyme, and salmon, to a lovely synesthesia of "...tails of four anchovies,/split grey and white, arranged on a plate./They taste of a concentration of salt/breaking into the mouth. As if their bodies/are permeated by a sea..." Food leads to water, which also leads to song. "Blue Fawn" also plays with a remarkable synergy, starting the poem with "pink mountain lions" and withholding the "Blue Fawn" until a later line. No lack of sensory feeling exists in Barr's work, evident in "My husband cuts his fingers on the piano's teeth," which becomes the grating line introducing the titular blue fawn."  By Dorothy Chan

"A Sense of Self: Crafting Identity" a review by Elizabeth F. Oxler in North Carolina Literary Review, Spring 2016

"The poems scat as jazz pieces do, moving through consciousness, time and written form.  .  .  . Like a kaleidoscope needs a mirror to reflect the pieces inside of it, Barr uses the form of the poem to inspire the senses, crafting within these moments poems that not only reflect her own biography, but are as easily absorbed into the being of the reader.  Barr reinforces the concept of kaleidoscope and that feeling of juxtaposition immediately within her first poem. . . a seemingly patterned sonnet that reads as an ode to the namesake object of the collection.  .  .  .  Barr immediately turns the reader, instead of the sonnet, and from then on her poems continue to juxtapose one idea with another that reads at first as not connected, yet by the end of the poem seems the most likely fit."  

"Barr's collection remains an experimental and tightly crafted body of work that creates a narrative about a place as much as it asks the reader to do the same."



The Why of Things

From Tar River Review, spring 2016, a review of Kaleidoscope

Phebe Davidson

"Like the kaleidoscope itself, the poems offer a multifaceted experience of things, all full of color and movement and light, and, like the refractions produced by a kaleidoscope, none entirely predictable."

Reviews below are for The Gathering Eye

Exerpt from Hayden's Ferry Review

The title of Tina Barr's first full-length collection of poetry, The Gathering Eye, suggests a storm is brewing, and in the case of Barr's impending impact on the poetry world this is true. Yet Barr takes us back to the eye of the storm from a necessary reflective distance; she gathers the narrative thread of women's experience, in the scattered landscapes of China, Egypt, Maine, and the South, pulled taut through the lyric eye of one woman's sharp needle, to suggest identity is in the other, not the mirror.

In this impressive collection, Barr gives us a revelation. Like Kierkegaard, loosely translated--'We must collect our thoughts, for the unexpected is always upon us'--Barr's collection suggests, We must gather our identities, for the other is always within us.

Excerpt from "Poetry in a World of Prose," by Stan Sanvel Rubin, Water~Stone Review

The poet's role is defined by an urgent burden: to link terror and beauty, mortality with the living moment, the unspeakable to language. . . . Out of such juxtapositions of desire and fact, brutality and beauty, Barr builds stanzas as solid as silk-curtained walls.  Her strange music is made from syllables, from vowels and consonants that crackle and click together and sometimes collide, like the opposites they name.

Excerpt from Book Briefs, Book Reviews in The Georgia Review by Alice Friman

Working from direct experiences gleaned while visiting China, Tibet and especially Egypt, Barr in poem after poem makes marketplaces and streets come alive in a rush of images that suggests both wide-angle cinematography and jostled hand-held cameras. 

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