by Gary Barwin
No TV for Woodpeckers is Barwin’s collection of experimental poetry. In the first section, “Needleminer,” the author takes a number of poems by other authors––representative of the industrial Hamilton landscape, from what he explains––and populates it with flora and fauna found throughout the area by replacing nouns from the source poems with their names. This is followed by a longer poem (also called “Needleminer”) attempting to demonstrate a relationship between us, represented by terms related to human anatomy, and these species. And the final part, the majority of the collection, “Marlinspike Chanty,” is, I believe, loosely related original poetry.
I really didn’t get this one, and I really tried. Keeping consistent with the way I tend to absorb poetry, I read through once with a fresh mind, just to try to start formulating an opinion unadulterated by outside explanations, and I really didn’t know what to think after doing so. After reading the author notes and whatever source poems from the first section I could find, I still couldn’t appreciate what Barwin explained he was setting out to do after a second reading of the collection. I superficially enjoy the construction of words and terms he arrives at in the poem “Needleminer” (not the first section) from this combination of animals and anatomy, but I struggle to delve deep enough to really get it. (The imagery Barwin employs here seems almost Burroughs- or Ginsberg-esque here, but I acknowledge that this is probably my previous experience with poetry talking more than anything, and I still can’t seem to find meaning with this even if I happen to be on the right trail.) And I quite enjoyed some of the poems in the last section––my favourite being “Whale,” about parking inside a whale––but, overall, I still find myself misunderstanding the majority.
So, I didn’t get it, but perhaps I’ll put it down for a long while and try it again eventually. Sometimes I feel as though this experience comes from attempting something when I’m not ready, that life and time can bring a change in me that helps me look at the right thing that just makes everything click. And, of course, if you got something more out of it, I’d love to hear what you saw that I didn’t.