In I Am Not Ariel, Rusty Barnes drives us down back roads and we realize that our own hometown legends are the legends that haunt this book. Perhaps we share the same gravel driveways, or the same morning dew that never fails to bring a shimmer of beauty to a world defined by its opposite. These poems make pacts beneath bare light bulbs and in the crooks of trees, in places poems don’t ordinarily go, but should.
--Mary Biddinger, author of O Holy Insurgency and Saint Monica
I'd like to point out that Mary also called these poems 'ferocious,' which pleased me to no end.
I Am Not Ariel by Rusty Barnes is certainly not Plath-like or mermaid girly. It’s more like an animalistic dog with “malformed haloes” and “crazy shapes I’ve never seen forming / from their fingers like spiderwebs.” Some of its young male content brought Frank Stanford to my mind and I mean that as a huge compliment. Rusty Barnes’ poem “He Moons Over the Covered Bridge” got me thinking about Frank Stanford’s “The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You” - and certainly not just because of the word moon; but because of the power of a man uniquely defining how he describes his own life experience – from highs to lows to tricks to the mistakes he does not regret.
Rusty Barnes does not want to fake perfection or conform to normal life and TV screen boredom; he wants to open up pieces of life’s imperfections. Beating and sinking and shooting spurts and strange cascades of fireworks exploding in a “blast off like pneumatic drills,” brimming with sex and so-called love and desires and real life violence. Sometimes the real life down and dirty country scenes are juxtaposed in between bad dreams and splashes of obscurity and slashes of horror movie line ups like “ a coffee can / with crayfish from the crick and the eyes of bluegills // popped from their sockets with a jackknife.”
--Juliet Cook, author of Poisonous Beautyskull Lollipop
From straw in the crotch to beating back wild dogs, urgent sex on the hoods of cars to freckles like a woman’s skin’s sky, Barnes’s poetry is always real, always present, and ready, half the time, to remind you of the sort of Eros and Thanatos combinations that make his words both so dangerous and so virile. Transgressive, bold, this poet’s viewpoint is that of a durable man in an unforgiving landscape, presenting both the “cynicism and suspicion of the proletariat” in some turns--and the gratifying necessity of sating a man’s animal needs in others. Barnes can be as eloquent about poetic settings as Whitman but as carnally drawn to women’s flesh as any hot-blooded American male. There is an aggression in these poems, the sense of a strong man prone to temptation and diversion, this at contrast with the old women depicted shelling peas, bittersweet parenting notes on the subject of raising children, and an intense romanticism and sensitivity that flits out only in the rare moments when the reader is ready to be seduced. In short, Barnes can take you anywhere with this book—and his lines are so elegantly sculpted that they contribute to the sense of urgency his narratives create, present and corporal—like the scent of new-fallen blood or the vivacious clutch of a mesmerizing, confident, marauding hand.
--Heather Fowler, editor of Corium
Harsh, funny, dark, and tender, [Barnes's poems] will kick you into next week.
--Adrian C. Louis, author most recently of Savage Sunsets.
While predominantly written from a Calibanesque perspective, a delicate spirit is omnipresent throughout: when a father presses his daughter's brachial artery to stop the flow from a self-inflicted wound, in the souls of dead babies inhabiting stars, and old ladies shelling peas. His quirky characters make the reader consider what it is that saves us from ourselves. Barnes reminds us that while so much of life is ephemeral, our stories are eternal.
--Rebecca Schumejda, author of Cadillac Men