Book Reviews

The Poetic Qualities of Barbara Elizabeth Mercer

Barbara Elizabeth Mercer in her latest collection ECHOES From CABBAGETOWN presents the truest expression in verse of her varying moods. ECHOES From CABBAGETOWN contains Barbara’s poems, haiku and Guest Poet Steve Chering’s fascinating poem A POST-MORTEM OF POEM-MAKERS POEMS. The collection has an excellent Foreword by Diane Oatley, an accomplished poet of Norwegian-American descent. Barbara’s poems included in ECHOES reveal two main characteristics: calm contemplation and imperative spontaneous impulse. This is visible in her poems OSLO, NORWAY, ‘CENTRE OF THE WORLD’ and OSLO, NORWAY. These two poems vividly describe her keenly observant glance at the happy moments as she participated in the international literary festival in the Norwegian national year of cultural diversity organised by Adam Donaldson Powell and Du store verden!/DSV festival. The main part of the festival took place in a huge tent in the center of Oslo, and in close proximity to major publishing houses, bookstores, the House of Literature, the National Library etc.
Barbara describes that the invitation to attend Oslo, Norway Literary Festival, September 2008 was a “total surprise” as “Destiny was calling” her to read her poetry in beautiful Oslo. I myself attended this international festival, and witnessed Babara’s “tears of breathless joy”. The flowing river and bronze statues listened to her, and “joyous bubbling fountains” heard her singing. The poem “CENTRE OF THE WORLD” describes her deepest joy as her new book SECRETS was released before an international gathering of artists including Adam Powell and Albert Russo. The poem MIRACLES OF MIRACLES is a happy revelation:
I will ask the universe
For yet another miracle
For the sending of love - gratitude
To literary critic
Adam Donaldson Powell
And publisher
For making this come true
 Finding her book SECRETS in the TRONSMO book store, she began to ponder about “Scandinavia’s mythological mystery”. She was also invited for coffee by the Canadian Embassies Cultural Attache. The poems about Barbara reading her poems and releasing her book SECRETS reveal that she is still haunted by “an ecstatic memory”. Barbara’s outlook on poetry is the outlook of a person who puts poetry in front of any other thing in life, as a force sanctifying and strengthening the soul. Barbara’s poem OSLO, NORWAY, ‘Centre OF THE WORLD’ “begins in delight and ends in wisdom” (Robert Frost, Preface to Collected Poems).
W.H.Auden remarks: “One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves." Reading from her book SECRETS to the public, authors and publishers in the International Oslo Literary Festival, 2008 organized by Adam Donaldson Powell soothes Barbara’s conscience and restores her faith in Poetry. We recognise its “validity” for “ourselves”, and this is the mark of a great poet. Barbara Elizabeth Mercer stands high as a poet, because in her poems she always remembers the poet’s main function to “make his (the poet’s) imagination theirs (readers’)” (Wallace Stevens).
The poem THE BOOKKEEPER makes it clear that the poet-painter Barbara “rebelled” against her “forceful” father. She chose a free or unfettered life of passions or emotions in art and poetry:
Poetry was her pleasure
She became an archer - ha -ha 
Her arrow - the word
Bestirred all who read
She would be a poet - author
Sixth book on its way
So sorry father
You produced a writer - happy to be free
In the life of
In several poems included in ECHOES, Barbara seems to recall the past, and reinforce it by her intense imagination. The inspiration behind her poetry is guided by her reflections, memory and remembrance of things past. Wordsworth remarks that poetry is “emotions recollected in tranquility”. Locke and Hume tell us that knowledge is the fruit of experience and reflection. Memory is “the great luminary of the mind” (George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric). The fact is that Barbara as a poet often tends to retrieve from the ideas and the archives of her personal history stored in her mind.
Marianne Moore once said, “Poetry is a phase of life. If one is afraid of it, the situation is irremediable.” Barbara’s keen mind, artistic sense, and her studies of mood and impulse show that she is not “afraid” of poetry. Poetry seems to be Barbara’s safest guide in life. The sense and joy of her life is to be a poet, because it satisfies her craving for beauty. In the poem POETRY CHANGED MY LIFE she speaks with a powerful voice:
Yes it has!
Yes it can!
Yes it had better!  (p. 64)
She is well aware of
The long road
To the word
Until death (ibid)
Barbara intensely feels that the poet is an “enchanter”, “a footballer of clever feat”. The poem WORDS reveals that Mercer is a daring adventurer and an intrepid fighter for the cause of poetry. The words are “waiting to be ignited”, and poetry will conquer in the end. New words want to be moulded into a poem:
Bring me to your page
Mould me into a poem
Open your heart
Open your imagination
Bring me to fruition - manifest me
Build me - whisperings
Bring me to form
In a poem   (WORDS, p.103)
No doubt, Barbara assigns great importance to liberty of imagination. Aristotle has pointed out that imagination is “a form of memory and so the mother of the Muses”. Her slogan “Open your imagination” reminds us of the Renaissance poets and the Romantic poets like Coleridge, Shelley and Keats. Fichte and Schelling rightly discovered that imagination was “a form of knowledge, and therefore essential to philosophy”. The fact is that all Barbara wants is to answer to her intense imagination, without intervention of the mind. She seems to be following the famous dictum of Charles Baudelaire: “Always be a poet, even in prose” ("My Heart Laid Bare," Intimate Journals, 1864).
Barbara in her several poems of nature included in ECHOES describes objects of nature accurately, pointing out some beauty which was hidden from our eyes. SPRING JUNGLE GARDEN shows “Trees-bushes-vines / Softly expanding”, and in SUMMER IS THINNING the poet reveals that the birds are “listening to their inner clocks”. WINDY WIND opens with a lyrical intensity proving that Barbara is a master singer of contemporary poetry, the poet favourite above all other poets, and the only proper word to describe her nature poetry is divine:
Windy Wind - sing me a song
Of adventures far away
Smother me with caresses
Carry intoxicating perfumes
Of lilacs blossoms
The first sweet rains in spring
Lilly of the valley
Apple blossoms fragrances
Honey Locust dripping beauty
Blow their petals - to kiss me
Wind - flow through my hair
Spray it with petals perfumes
Encircle my body with freshness
Bathe my soul 
Windy Wind   (WINDY WIND, p.101)
Barbara’s experience of FULL APRIL MOON triggers a transcendent moment, an instance of the sublime. The senses are overwhelmed by this experience. Barbara says that Full April Moon
Shines in on my sleep tonight
Wants me to say hello
Wakes me 
With no sound
Yet there must be a song
Imploring me to respond
For it is lonely
Needs a friend 
It is amazing that Barbara still holds reverence for the world of nature inherent to the romantic literature. Is she like W.B. Yeats “the last Romantic” providing comfort and solace to our war-weary postmodern world? In her nature poems Barbara shows romantic characteristics. She clearly shows her preference toward ‘traditional sanctity’ and beauty. W.B. Yeats wrote in one of his poems: “We were the last Victorians-chose for theme /Traditional sanctity and loveliness”. Abstraction, insincerity seem to continually undermine much of the postmodern writing, but the romanticism and personal emotion often breaks through Barbara’s poems saving her from the pitfalls of postmodernism. Echoes of gentleness and pity prevail in her poetry, and she is always happy to retire within herself where she can hear the stars echo her “song”:
Let the trees breathe my breath
Let oceans and rivers
Embrace our love song
We shall never part
We will always be
ECHOES  (ECHOES 1, p. 23)
Barbara in her collection ECHOES has also included 32 haiku, most popular poetic form in contemporary world poetry. These haiku are fresh and exciting:
Singing waters dance
Rapids catching misty song
Trees and sky amused (p. 105)
He is gone - until
He shines in on me
Hello Mr. moon (ibid)
To sing my poem
Let me pluck it out of the sky
As a bird flies high (p. 108)
Feel the wind singing
Feel the suns sounding singing
Feel the sparkling song (ibid)
Barbara’s haiku are intuitive, not intellectual. She is able to create “haiku moment” in these one-breath haiku. In the above haiku, Barbara’s third line creates “the moments that take our breath away”. The “punch line” is used by Barbara as answer when creating a riddle. She does not depend on the use of kigo or seasonal words in her haiku. No doubt, Barbara’s collection ECHOES proves that she is one of the greatest poets of the present age. Contemporary world poetry will have no future without the invaluable contribution of Barbara Elizabeth Mercer.


More by :  Dr. Santosh Kumar

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