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Quan Barry's Loose Strife

Quan Barry's Loose Strife (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) is a collection of poems inspired by a collaborative exhibit with visual artist Michael Velliquette.

The cover image is by Velliquette, a piece entitled Chromasoul from 2012.

This collection of poems is one I'll have to read again and again to get a stronger sense of its nuances and interconnections. As a whole, there are recurring themes of history, war, and violence. The poems unfold across the pages in various layouts. At times, the lines are simply left-justified. At other times, the lines are fully justified, even compressed into two or three columns on a page. Some pages provide fully justified lines that are stretched out to leave plenty of white space between words, and at least one page alternated between left-justified and right-justified lines. This play with the placement of words on the page forces a reading experience that is more attentive to spacing and the visual impact of black words on off-white page.

Another aspect of the poems is Barry's consideration of how others perceive violence and representation. The epigraph comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth, for instance, which sets the tone for a poetic world filled with the chaos of war and ambition. Barry also brings up ancient Greeks like Homer and Euripedes about their representations of violence. And in various poems, she considers images of contemporary war and violence that have seared into our collective memories such as from the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields, of a woman who survived having bleach thrown in her face, of a black man impaled by a white man wielding an American flag as a spear....

I would've loved to have seen more images of the visual pieces by Velliquette that formed the collaborative exhibit to get a sense of the dynamic between visual art and the images of poetry.

See also stephenhongsohn's reviews of Barry's novel She Weeps Each Time You're Born and other poetry collections Asylum, Controvertibles, and Water Puppets.

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