Barbara Crooker: Review by Janet McCann

Barbara Crooker: Some Glad Morning (University of Pittsburgh Press)

The title of the slim book on my bed table cheers me. Some Glad Morning is both a promise and a fulfillment: the “glad morning” can be either now or in the past or future, but the notion encapsulates Barbara Crooker’s unique poetic mixture of longing and love. There is no title poem to limit or explain the idea, and the morning mentioned can be future or present or both.

Crooker’s newest book contains all the themes of her other collections but in new dress. Travel, art, family, nature, food, poetry, loss, and the unpredictability of life come together in poems that tend to elicit oohs and ahs like fireworks. However uncertain, the texture of life is so rich that it demands touch, taste, all the senses. Even the endings of poems about the most devastating of experiences often provide hope and joy, and a number of them conclude with an image of light. Crooker is no Pollyanna and does not avoid the heavy topics such as sadness from deaths and partings, from limits imposed by life. The speaker has endured devastating losses. However great the loss the speaker describes in these poems, there is a glow in them like in the paintings of Van Gogh.  Life is uncertain—the senses are not.  The world is beautiful to eye and tongue. Crooker’s poems help us experience that beauty.

Barbara Crooker has published nine books of poetry and many chapbooks, and won numerous awards and prizes. She is the recipient of the Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Pennsylvania Center for the Book Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, the “April Is the Cruelest Month” Award from Poets & Writers, the New Millennium Writing’s Y2K competition, the 1997 Karamu Poetry Award, and others, including three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, eighteen residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; and a number of overseas residencies. She has received also the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature and the 2005 Word Press First Book Award. In addition, she is poetry editor of Italian Americana.

Some Glad Morning has four sections of poems, mostly free verse with a rushing flow of images that produce a sense of true immersion in life—the lines run into each other, image piled on image. There are a couple of sonnets based on the Psalms and a few other flexible patterned poems. Form reflects content in these meditative works.

Crooker’s ekphrastic and nature poems are a particular delight. She lets herself into the natural or created scene and vice versa, so that the poem is about the observer as well as the observed, and extends to the reader’s world too. Mind and world blend in such poems as “Black and Purple Petunias,” based on a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, making it a poem about art about nature. The flowers are personified, “dressed in the dark velvet of theater-goers, / luminous pearls at their throats.” They are given agency, and a powerful voice. Finally, the reader is invited along: “Look at how they are framed, surrounded / by moss-green leaves, the pail sky a cutout / behind them. Don’t you want to join / in their song?” This poem has a number of possible readings.

As usual, a lot of Crooker’s imagery involves food and taste. “Eating Fried Eggs at Gail’s” was fascinating to me because I loathe fried eggs, and yet this poem made me want some, to share the feast of fresh-laid eggs, to be there with them “spreading / sunshine all over our plates.” Her titles often refer to the sense of taste: “Butter,” “Home Cooking,” “Peaches in August,” “Fifteen-Bean Soup,” etc.  The world is to be consumed.

The spiritual perspective of these poems is unique and persuasive. These are Christian poems although not standard issue. Beyond the world we know is a different perspective, a dimension glimpsed now and then beyond the chaos of this one. The spiritual seems to be approached through the physical; instead of looking away from the world for the divine, we look into it. In one interview the poet commented, “Frank Lloyd Wright said, ‘I believe in God, only I spell it Nature,’ and it seems to me that the closer we are to the natural world, the closer we are to our true spiritual selves. If I could write one line like Dylan Thomas’s ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,’ I could die happy.” A short poem shows her transcendent vision:


Dull morning, dove-colored sky, black trees,

winter at its most monochrome.  Months

until spring; don’t even think about it.  Then

squawk, there’s a jay, pure blue verb

landing on the feeder.  And suddenly, you see

delphiniums, larkspur, hydrangeas.

and suddenly, even sorrow is bearable.

“Blue” reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s “Black Rook in Rainy Weather,” but Crooker’s vision is more positive. Plath escapes her heavy boredom briefly by looking at the shiny bird. Crooker’s vision seems more intentional, more transformative. The “pure blue verb” has something to say about the vitality of the earth.

The joy in the poems stems from this fusion of time and timeless, natural and spiritual. There is such glory in nature—it reflects God’s presence, reminding me of the notion that medieval thinkers held that nature was God’s signature. There is such beauty in Crooker’s nature images that it becomes a message to us. Divinity glimmers through creation, and it is our joy and our task to appreciate it as it opens itself to our senses.

Janet McCann’s journal publications include Kansas Quarterly, Parnassus, Nimrod, Sou’wester, America, Christian Century, Christianity and Literature, New York Quarterly, Tendril, and others. A 1989 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship winner, she taught at Texas A&M University from 1969 until 2015, and is now Professor Emerita. She has co-edited anthologies with David Craig, Odd Angles of Heaven (Shaw, 1994), Place of Passage (Story Line, 2000), and Poems of Francis And Clare (St. Anthony Messenger, 2004). McCann has written three poetry books, including The Crone at The Casino (Lamar University Press, 2014), and six chapbooks.

Table of Contents | Next Page