Gene Barry’s fourth book, Flaking the Rope was published in Boston in January 2019 by Nixes Mate.

f.t.r.

Gene Barry is a true captain of language in his new book Flaking the Rope.

Barry welcomes us on-board his international odyssey of place and persona, where even in the direst circumstance, hope pulls speaker, subject, and reader through to another path – as “woken tractors that are feeding fields,” where the body is the instrument and recipient for both disease and song.

Barry shares that sacred music in lyrical prescient language, dousing and drifting us “through seas of detached understanding.”

Professor Anne Elezabeth Pluto, Boston, USA.

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Gene Barry’s new poetry collection, Flaking the Rope, is a book of healing.

One day I will cry forever

[…]

I will hand back shame,

stuff hanks of guilt deep into his larynx.

Such uncompromising words as these of deep psychological torment (from Stuffing Hanks) reflect the kind of healing needed and which the poet seeks to impart.

Unflinching in its honest recognition of the hurt so often inflicted upon children, whether intentionally or unknowingly, by parents themselves harmed by society’s inadequacies, the poems in this collection nevertheless exude a genuine empathy for all damaged youngsters, and for the damaged adults they frequently become.

Yet they speak also to the awkward love that so often underpins even difficult familial relationships, heartbreaking and devastating though these may sometimes be. And thus the poems resonate with each of us, because they speak for us all. In one form or another, we have been there.

How much aching, how much yearning, how much love there is in words such as these:

Do not leave me now Mother,

but bed yourself into my heart,

for I have a room there for you

to furnish with love,

memories for you to write.

(Dousing our Genoa)

 

Or these, of another mother’s funeral:

So many heart deaths she’s had

And hidden in complex notions,

In outdated prayers and diatribes…

[…]

How kind of death

To call her back to safety.

(On the Homestead)

 

If, as C.S. Lewis claimed, we read to know we are not alone, then Flaking the Rope is another page in that essential volume. It deserves to be read and re-read.

Harry Owen, Grahamstown, South Africa.

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Gene Barry’s gift to his readers is a poet’s brilliant, courageous, and powerful rendering of family dysfunction, child abuse and sexual molestation. In this exquisite collection of poems, Barry writes with compassion and heart-wrenching expression of ‘aged uncleanable stains,’ where ‘there were zeppelins always knocking around his skyline,’ ‘belching the dark with upsetness.’

In Flaking the Rope, Barry is not afraid to challenge us, layering his poems with wisdom and metaphor as he ventures and navigates his way into the depths of pain and trauma, revealing unconscionable acts and life-altering experiences, and, in the process, illuminating us with intelligent writing and striking word combinations. Gene Barry is a masterful poet, one who truly wants change for this world, an enlightened activist who pens gorgeous poems.

Flaking the Rope extends love and forgiveness at its centre, expresses hope of universal healing, where ‘a hug is a thesaurus that blankets every wound.’

Jeannie E. Roberts, Wisconsin, USA.

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Gene Barry’s new collection, bearing the inciting title “Flaking the Rope”, is a feast for the heart, both in terms of content and form. It opens up with amazing images such as this:

“She was a holed ark

Lying in that grave not yet dug for her.” (Call me Granny)

One day ‘I will cry forever (Stuffing Hanks)

“there is a frozen silence

both sides of our window”. (Mother)

 

There is tender humour or even irony:

“A readable Ulysses”.  (Call me Granny)

“After all,

families are only for photographs”. (Call me Granny)

“he won gold at the hide and seek Olympics” (Continuance)

there is sensibility, deep introspection, subtlety and a great generosity (not to call it professionalism) in the understanding of the human soul. He talks with the same precision about the others – may them be part of the family or just strangers he observes – and about the self.

 

Gene Barry is the creator of strong metaphors; amazing images such as these:

” When the

Demons

Unplugged

Life’s keystone” (Granard)

 

” their memories get speeding fines” (Fish)

 

“he can hold an un-conducted philharmonic

in the unspoken of his heartstrings” (Poem)

 

“the music of

useless half moons” (Fishing)

 

The poems are written in different styles – in terms of line length and rhythm. Besides the lengthy poems, there are short lines like in “The Splinter” – just two or three words per line, creating the feeling of sharp intrusion depicted in the poem, “Granard” – even more tense, in its devastating sadness, or the beautiful, musical “Play me another one please” or the story of rocks and achievements in “Building Harmonising Dreaming”.

 

Gene Barry creates little stories containing a lifetime span in each of them. His poems draw the waves of humanity’s heart – in its perfect imperfection, which Gene so generously accepts.

 

The psychological concepts such as: loneliness, nihilism, pain, sorrow, healing, torment, punishment – which usually sound so technical and so distant – are skilfully brought over in the land of poetry. This is Gene’s greatest talent – to integrate these terms into such strong and original images, that touch the reader. Gene Barry has both a deep understanding of life and a poetic sensibility, with a feeling for language – which is exactly what it needs to be a great writer.

 

Denisa Duran, Romania

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Call me Granny

She was a holed ark

lying in that grave not yet dug for her.

A readable Ulysses.

Her own black and white parents

had been childhooded in a courtroom,

sisters ate guilt for supper.

 

I often cried for her begging lips

-when I lived in my small frame-

and watched a pedestrian of excuses

daily march from that mouth.

A finger-wagging hand

holding her still and she living in

the moment of a graveside kneel.

In between the misunderstood prayers

she subpoenaed deaf relatives who were

useless as a liar’s excuse.

 

Once, let us not dance around the particulars

she screamed at no audience;

another new testament I asked myself.

So when guilty, not tired

she bathed in a bath of punishment.

After all,

families are only for photographs.

 

©Gene Barry

 

Flaking the Rope

Sunday mornings while Cork’s docks stood still,

four little boys would crane stare.

To the full back seat of our Ford Poplar

my father answered questions through

that haze of preoccupation surrounding him.

 

Processions of Ford tractors in readymade

sheds always lined the concrete part of the quays

and water would somehow pour out from the

belly button of some of the tied up foreign ships.

 

When I was older, much older, that same haze

would follow me into classrooms and pubs,

into relationships and thought processes.

Each and every time an anchor would clinch

as my father’s preoccupation flaked the rope.

 

He knew not what to do with me, with himself,

and my three brothers stood as witnesses.

 

©Gene Barry

 

A Different Heroin

One morning she saw no roads.
Street-fatigued,
she stepped off the tram
on Nieuwe Binnenweg,
a yellow cirrhosis painted canvas
at last giving that notice
she had always craved.

There was a gnawing
at the heels of her trodden wish list,
that same torment from her
equally torturing childhood.

So she stroked
the undergrowth of her ego
and stepped through
I.V. lines, blow jobs,
fibrillation and innocence
that had been climbing for
14 tormenting years
and whispered to herself;

bury me up to my conscience
in a wood with no name,
leave the headstone unetched
.

 

©Gene Barry

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Working Days

working

Writing human condition: Gene Barry as a chronicler of our times.

 

When grief unbuckled itself

it fell like January dew

seeping right into her very marrow,

the big Clare smile was gone.

 

Gene can be metaphysical, if he chooses to be!

The lines above from January Dew from the present collection of his recent poems confirm this impression—and validate.

Gene Barry of the famous Blackwater Poetry Festival is an institution. Art therapist, critic, poet, curator, activist, public figure, this Irish artist has proved that once it comes to articulating the angst of the human condition the Irish are the best.

And they have an impressive heritage! Joyce is the summit very few can dream of ever surpassing. Swift, Shaw, Yeats, Wilde, Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Sean O’ Casey and many others. It is a collective that can be best matched by the Russians or the French of the previous two centuries. Gene is a true inheritor of this world-class legacy of wit and sharp observation and satiric commentary on foibles and fads of a species called Homo-sapiens that has kept the artists engaged from the very beginning of the time—and now entertained through its stupidity and greed and predatory nature out to destroy nature itself!

For Gene Barry, the world is a canvas, life is the field of study and humans, despite frailties, true subject. He turns his gaze at the la affaire human—this great drama—and mercilessly dissects with the commitment of a scientist and psychiatrist. He dissent, subverts power-structures and dominant power discourse. He makes rigid language flexible, yokes dissimilar images and makes the fusion speak, like the Metaphysical poets of the yore!

English becomes a supple probe in his deft hands. He makes it do amazing things—almost re-vitalizing clichés and making the readers see the everyday in a new light.

For me, as a reader, Gene Barry reminds me of another great: Paul Henry, especially his Connemara series. Like Paul, Gene takes in the essentials and compresses them in a vibrant frame—catching the scene forever.

These poems do that job—moving us and like a classic Paul Henry painting, giving us a sense of time and place.

Dr. Sunil Sharma.

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Clowning

Inspired by Robert Welch’s The Blue Formica Table

Let the circus

take you

through the lines

of a Leonard Cohen song

and let them

gently push you along

a blue Formica table

landing you

in between

a salad of

Sir Philip’s stanzas,

your painted face

a Picasso of poetry.

 

And in the spotlight

may you swing

on a pendulum

of pleasure

to the music

of a child-pleasing

orchestra

that will toss

you into a wealth

of smiling memories,

the world

of fathers

your safety net.

©Gene Barry

 

Margo

I wear your love today

Like a Frisian landscape,

No credentials do I exhale

For I long for nothing.

 

Dust has not settled

On our distance

I have forbidden it,

I am drunk on memories of us.

 

I miss you.

©Gene Barry

 

Coolnakilla

I peeped because I loved you Dad,

you were knee deep in thought.

The 3.30 I guessed.

 

Before we arrived, the late April

mist had licked the wounds we

had dug the previous day,

salivating the entire trench.

 

You threw a few muffled curses

with your frosted breath and

made straight for your shovel

and pick, casting a traditional

spit on your two waiting palms.

 

Where were you?

 

How many generations were

swinging our picks, galloping

into forefathers and forebearers?

Where have your shovel-loads lodged?

©Gene Barry

Coolnakilla is a townland near Rathcormac County Cork.

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Unfinished Business

unfinished business

Poetry Salzburg Review Autumn 2014 No 26

Review of Gene Barry’s book ‘Unfinished Business’ by Robert Peake.

Gene Barry’s Unfinished Business is highly narrative, but as much as it seems impelled to tell its stories, it does so with shocking economy and observational precision. Family is a recurring theme, and specifically fathers and sons. In ‘Repairing Loneliness’, a dad whose “eyes told all” explains the importance of the masculine act of playing handyman to family members, even in seemingly trivial repairs, because otherwise he’ll “suffer” (30).
This combination of humour and wistful seriousness recurs, as poem after poem continues to tell the hard truth with an emphatic wink. In another father/son poem, “Drawbacks”, the speaker draws back time to when his father was still alive, affectionately re/rearing him to adulthood, and then musing, “I will watch you half doze after gardening, /ask if you enjoyed your pint,/ light one of the fags that killed you”. (48)
One of the strengths of this collection lies in its attention to detail. Sometimes, it is just a moment, as in “Princess Street, Cork” when “a good looking pacifist lost his life/to a pair of tailor’s scissors (18). The detail that he was good-looking seems at once extraneous and crucial to the tone of the tale. Other poems gather momentum by composing interesting details together. One after another, into lists.

Consider “Idle Hands” , with its lamentation of, “no more gutter bolts / building-site mantras / black screws / spacers/ black nails and blisters / 4 x 1 gauges / t’s and g’s / reducers/frustrating German fixtures” could only come from someone who knows, as Phillip Levine puts it, “what work is”.

Another poem from father to son calls the man, “A headstrong bullock” / “A stadium of Rafteries” / “A set of admirable shoulders”. He recalls, “the boy in a mustard fleece top / and brown corduroy pants / stanched in a pair of / blue heroic wellies / that I love” (22).
The collection is not all filial love and fondest memory, however. “Michael” is a poem of shocking economy about a boy disabled by polio and abused by monastic care takers who

[…] cut leather, punched it,
put coins in between the strips
he managed to sow together
for the brothers who flogged him.

He tied four longer strips
around his neck before
he pushed the stool away, (10)

Incidental violence, in lore and everyday life, crops up like this, as in “Evergreen Road” when a mother “thinks she hears, / ‘the speeding van / blew him 30 metres.” (29) Throughout

Unfinished Business Gene Barry brings a raconteur’s impulse, with wide-ranging humanistic veracity, tempered by careful attention to line and detail.

Robert Peake.

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A Book Review by Kristen D. Scott, Ed. by Penny Perry

Gene Barry’ in his new collection of poetry, Unfinished Business from Doghouse Press, points at last with children’s fingers to childhood pain and abuse. Barry’s searing and honest account of wounds, and denial, pulls the reader in. The reader sees with Barry’s eyes, even sometimes flinches with Barry’s skin. The reader roots for Barry and hopes those included in his works, receive the ablution and understanding they deserve.

Barry suggests that healing from a difficult past is a lifetime journey and will always be Unfinished Business. The poems are riveting and complex and demand careful consideration. For readers who have suffered from similar abuses the poems, though disturbing, are comforting and cathartic.

Barry often uses an adult lens to examine his past. In his poem “Letter to Self” he looks at his denial, his need to forgive himself for his mountains of inabilities, and his desire for repair:

 

Denial perched on my heart,

I didn’t know this, couldn’t have.

It arrived days when inside

my little frame and head

my dictionary had only

white pages and when pain

had nudged me on to

a tangent of self sabotage.

Those lumps of anguish encased

in childhood blindness grew into

mountains of inabilities and rejection,

steering my mother adult to dole out

the oozing jealousies and torments

to a clean new generation.

(1-14)

Barry’s honest and illuminating poem about abuse “Stuffing Hanks” reveals Barry’s grit and stunning lack of self pity.

One day I will cry forever.

Not like a terrace loser,

or a baby-faced softy,

you know, a terminal cry.

I will stoke my engine with

nights-without-sleep and invasions,

childhood floggings and hidden wounds,

attacks and black-suited fiends.

I won’t forget to douse the unexpected

with rivers of anal blood and

floods of small-boy tears.

I will hold up all of those walls

I’ve fallen off and hidden behind

with screaming wrongs

and decorate my sky

with pointing children’s fingers.

A cortege of forbidden questions

will at last assemble

and trod with notice

to a brand new place of old

where every squeezed-open

pair of perfect ears

will finally embrace my slowest form of death.

(1-24)

One of the most heart wrenching poems in Unfinished Business deals with our discomfort with disability.

From “Michael”

 

After polio had visited,

the boy it chose

was never the same.

It paralyzed his mother.

 

Young men lit their laughter,

Pubescent girls wondered

and dogs slowed near him;

the years after his father

could take no more.

 

He had paddled upstream

to a school and a room

for special people

……

(1-12)

Unfinished Business is a collection of poems as powerful as Barry’s fellow countryman Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes. Barry has the courage to find words to name and describe wounds. Barry’s poems harsh and honest, thoughtful and tender reveal a portrait of a man who has overcome difficult odds and carved his own switchback path to healing.

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ELSEWHERE – A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY POETRY
‘Growing Down’, the opening poem in this first collection, has an epigraph from Oscar Wilde – ‘Be yourself. Every one else is taken’. The adults in the speaker’s life
.. gave me lies and pain,
disbelief and discouragement;
selflessness stood in a queue.
It hurt to lose oneself.
When I start again, it
will be a million miles
nearer my childhood self.

Those last three lines read like a manifesto for Barry, who founded the Blackwater International Poetry Festival. Unfinished Business documents life from family outwards to friends, neighbourhood and wider world. Poems about Barry’s children mix loving memories with analysis of how that love works. ‘Time Flown’ counts down to one child’s start at secondary school. Three consecutive verses begin:

Five years filling the Piranha Pine bookshelf
I made for you, of three times a week swimming…
Three days of secondary school,
delivering you and my new passengers in your
sensibly too-big uniforms and big-girl bags…

 

A split second of peer pressure and your larynx
is silenced, your lips un-puckered and your heart
astray with the introduction of an uncool flutter.

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Michael

 

After polio had visited

the boy it chose

was never the same.

It paralysed his mother.

 

Young men lit their laughter,

pubescent girls wondered

and dogs slowed near him;

the years after his father

could take no more.

 

He paddled upstream

to a school and a room

for special people and

at a bench he called his own

he cut leather, punched it,

put coins in between the strips

he managed to sow together

for the brothers who flogged him.

 

He tied four longer strips

around his neck before

he pushed the stool away.

©Gene Barry

 

Redundant

 

These nights his right hand rests

behind him pining for its spooning perch.

She no longer jadedly whispers

‘nite, love you too’,

concentrates on the tears

filling the pillow’s pool,

makes another note to change it

while he’s away at work

where he will cry a half dozen

times in the deaf toilet.

 

In her dreams she will be

younger than 13 again,

in her wedding dress,

hugging her adult children,

climbing the Sydney Bridge,

picking up rainbows of toys,

swimming with the mother’s group,

losing herself to the anaesthetic.

She is awkwardly lighter there now,

the new weight resting on her shoulders

toppling her into an unfamiliar world.

 

When the consultant spoke of rebuilding

she ran into bricks and mortar;

their shed flattened in that storm she’d forgotten about

without laughing her father’s unfinished coal bunker

without pride the pouring of their first foundation

without joy their villa in Sardinia.

Built a wall around her unexplainable pain.

©Gene Barry

 

Bone locked

for Pasha near Chernobyl 1999

No one has seen the walls

that hover around you.

Shields that only land

occasionally in polluted

fields of adulthood

birthed by deaf ears and

confused and troubled as

your country’s barriers.

Your birth year blew you

you a second violation,

nuclear,

a shock to torture your

family now summoned to

live a querulous-free life.

 

Is there a poet of gratitude

lurking in your twisted frame

burying volumes of antiquity;

those beasts that

bite you after binding.

Is there an Olympian caged

within, breaking ribbon after

ribbon. A podium tenant

riding heroic cantatas.

A screamer without an

audience. Are your trips

as grey as a funeral

procession or as pleasing

as a lap of honour.

©Gene Barry

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Stones in their Shoes

cropped-final-stones-front-1.jpg

 

I love the drive and push and forgiveness of Stones in their Shoes.  We may spend a life making peace with our fathers.

Turkish Baths is an exercise in heroic exorcism. It is a blast of human energy.

Tactile Moments is a superb piece, wild and exacting, and remote and challenging.

A Kennedy moment’ just shifts along and changes emotional gears effortlessly until you achieve that sonic roar.

Professor Robert Welch.

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Rotterdam   

In memory of Jim Barry

 

You dangled in an Auschwitz frame,

poppy full and gloating,

boastful as a medal earning child

and sniffing Merlin’s approval.

 

God’s Own Medicine nursed

its way through those same cells

that quenched the torment

Telemachus held for you.

 

The un-reaching, pock-marked

and useless long arms you wore

were drained of hugs and dying.

they offered not an opportunity.

 

Your unfortunate messengers,

thieved of instruction,

naked vellum, brimmed

inward with emotions.

 

You were repeatedly

scruples-free and mission-bound,

deep in this addiction

you refused to own.

 

Common in us three

tight bound siblings was

a traditional inability,

infant donated.

 

These airline tickets had

somehow merely flown us

back to our childhood,

contraband inclusive.

 

I pulled from our family

dictionary and served an ace

each time; my labelled tongue

an unapproved ambassador.

©Gene Barry

 

A Kennedy Moment 

for John Liddy

 

Mary, my lips hadn’t dressed

Your name in a multiple

Of decades, not until you

Perched between us tonight,

Landing yourself on a

Republican lap.

It was a Kennedy Moment.

Etching wasn’t deep enough

To hold you. The memories

Danced to polkas, reels

And jigs and were held

In volumes of uninterrupted

Slow airs.

When I looked again I

Noticed that the tide had

Ebbed and a feed-bag

Of torments had discharged

Itself. You wore that same smile

That introduced you to

Us in the Phoenix bar in

1977, when your lips seduced

The plastic tip and drove a

Decade of fingers to entertain us.

Jesus you were great!

My memory fumbled and

Fumbled in its recall, till

You excavated a hunk of

Deep-bored and unmarried

Memories and exorcised an

Unwelcome landscape that

Had found an inappropriate

Home. I left my hosts and

Danced my way through Limerick

Streets that once held your

Stride and winked at the

Variety of unwritten plaques

That hold you now.

Unwittingly ordering a confluence

Of memories to entertain

Themselves. Later today

I’ll drive to Cork and on

My way I’ll erect a cortège

Of finger posts, to you, and

Bless them with a lifetime

Of acceptance.

©Gene Barry

 

Acceptance   

 

My father visited me last night

gift-wrapped in understanding

and smelling of forgiveness.

The hand he laid on my

shoulder hadn’t changed,

it radiated love set to the

temperature of acceptance.

He was smiling.

He taught me to swim

in amniotic rivers

banked with maternal love;

he winked at his lover

and she smiled.

I let him fix my communion tie

and I smiled when

he kissed me.

I unlaced my little shoes

and awaited the pleasure

of him retying them

with fathers hands.

I waited at the bus stop

ignoring mam’s wishes

and boxed the expression on

his face as he saw me,

the world’s smallest reception committee.

I put it in my pocket

and savoured the moment

of retrieval, I was happy.

He cut loaves of bread,

hedges, grass and umbilical cords.

To me he was sound.

I was saddened when he missed

one old and large chord and I

wondered if he knew.

When he got tired I put

him to bed and kissed him,

put the lid on

and screwed it tight.

Good night Dad,

love you too.

©Gene Barry

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