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SHORT QUOTES about Judith Barrington’s work
—for more quotes and for full reviews go to Books and look under each title.

The Conversation

... Here, the narrator is beyond life but yearning to complete unfinished business in a world abandoned. Human life is presented in all its ordinariness within the parentheses of Frost and Lorca, cleverly invited as Father-witnesses. This is a poem that has made a wide clearing for itself, slow-burning and attaching itself more compellingly to us at each rereading. Here, the dead, the ones ‘lost for language’, may never return to familiar and familial attachments. Upon rereading, one sees that it is the world and its capacity for attachment and disappointment that ‘has kept the words that belong in that talk/ stuffed inside my mouth which is firmly closed/ like my eyes.’ The entire poem with its four robust stanzas and one orphaned line coheres as a single thought. This is a brilliant technical achievement; it reminds us all that great poetry is both fine thinking and achieved style. The narrator describes and teaches, telling us that death – and death in life – is ‘too late now for that conversation we never had’ – We can’t leave ‘The Conversation’ without becoming implicated in its anxieties. Technically, this is a mindful, thoughtful, calculated and superbly pre-meditated work. I have no hesitation – dare I say it, no anxiety? – in advocating it as my winning poem for the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize. —Thomas McCarthy

The Conversation is, ultimately, both brave and generous. By enacting her own dialogue between memory, the unconscious, and the body in the face of death, Barrington acts as an unflinching and sure-footed guide for those readers who choose to go along for the ride, her attunement becoming our own. — Cindy Stewart-Rinier
The Critical Flame

The Conversation... is an assured collection, the author demonstrating proficiency in her shaping of language and form, and deftness in her handling of the emotions these elements work to convey. Although the emotions found here are often multifarious, the poems are the more moving for their restraint, and never succumb to the verboseness that is typical of much poetry being written today. Barrington’s cool, calm voice is quite enough to get her point across. —Róisín Kelly, Southword Journal

[Barrington has] produced a dense and beautiful book of poems (her first new full-length book of poems in more than 10 years) entitled The Conversation published by Salmon Poetry, that looks back over her childhood, her family, her memories, her grief. —Kirsten Rian, The Oregonian


Horses and the Human Soul

“‘The poem,’ writes Judith Barrington, ‘has lodged in my heart like a stone in the shoe.” It is the perfect image for recollection. Here are the horses of her English childhood and the outbreak of World War II filtered through family reminiscence, her coming of age, the disastrous marriage and her self-acceptance as a lesbian. In the brilliant, excruciating title poem, undercover investigators watch but do not interfere as killers break the leg of a racehorse; the poet seeks to understand how savagery can coexist with intellectual detachment. When the crowbar strikes, she asks, what happens to the human soul? Her voice is lyrical, her intelligence palpable throughout this book.”
Maxine Kumin

“These stunning poems find moral high ground in the world of nature and animals without falsifying that world.... The title poem is concerned with questions of responsibility and evil in the human world. Based on a true story of an insurance scam that involved criminals breaking a thoroughbred’s leg while undercover investigators watched in order to make their case, the poem asks with heartbreaking clarity: Did it occur to them then, as the man led the mare back to his friend with the crowbar, that they could stop this before it happened? How to stop wrongs before they happen is a profoundly moral question. Barrington makes powerful poetry of that question.” —Barbara Drake, Calyx

“In Judith Barrington’s striking collection, Horses and the Human Soul, human emotions come ushered and accompanied by animal companions, especially the horses this speaker loves. Here they are witnesses, companions to the spirit, and as vulnerably mortal as human beings. Socially and politically alert, lamenting and celebrating, Barrington’s passionate poems inscribe the broad range of her affections.” —Mark Doty

“Judith Barrington’s Horses and the Human Soul gives readers a glimpse of the powerful connections that can exist between nature and humanity and the potential for that connection to be transforming.” —Prairie Schooner

Lifesaving: A Memoir

"Throughout her writing is superb; she evokes smalltown Spain under Franco in lush detail with solid philosophical insight into the tragedy that changed her life…. Among the growing number of memoirs, Lifesaving is a gem.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Lifesaving is about a life once again saved in and by a writer’s memory." —Judges for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir, naming Lifesaving a finalist

"Barrington is especially shrewd about the erotic education of her younger self. But what makes this memoir so refreshing is its unillusioned (as opposed to "disillusioned") perspective and wry, dry humor. There is not a trace of self-pity anywhere. The prose is unostentatious and utterly trustworthy; the narrator, excellent company for a voyage of discovery/self-discovery.” —Phillip Lopate

"Barrington's easygoing narrative and the good humor of the tone-often disarmingly funny-conceal a dark, driving undercurrent of pain. The complex levels of imagery build to a resolution as hard-won as it is inevitable. It's not easy to be honest about one's youth, about the lies one's lived, about death, about sex, but that's what this story is about, and it's told with a beautiful honesty. I think a great many people will find it speaks to them about the hard places and the hard choices, while they love it for its sunlit picture of a woman young, wild, and wildly alive." —Ursula K. Le Guin

"Landscape, culture, character and language—all come alive under Barrington's deft hand and sumptuous eye. Intimate in detail, this beautifully conceived memoir is psychologically astute and honestly written. A brave self-portrait and moving journey of a daughter's search for her self. —Dorianne Laux

Judith Barrington’s Lifesaving achieves a rare balance of narrative restraint and rich storytelling. As a poet, Barrington knows the power of the not-said. —Joanne Mulcahy

This is the recollection of wild youth from the perspective of a wiser and more integrated mature self, but she does not interfere with our perceptions of her at nineteen and twenty. She gives us her adventures, the chances she took, the luck that carried her through danger… she never attempts to depict herself as victim and never attempts to manipulate us into pity." —Marge Piercy

History and Geography

"Barrington’s history, like Lowell’s, is intensely personal; her geography, like Bishop’s, extracts the familiar from the exotic and the exotic from the familiar." —The Nation

" She engages wittily with cultural differences…and gives a prominent place to what Elizabeth Bishop, of whom her writing sometimes reminds me, called ‘questions of travel.’ …There is an economy of language here, a healthy and resonating clarity." —The Women’s Review of Books

" Written in a voice at once steadfastly bold and gently intimate… Barrington demonstrates control of her material, transforming volatile feelings and almost unspeakable observations into cogent, vigorous poetry. —Publishers Weekly

" Worth celebrating! Barrington’s sharp, bifocal vision gives me nearby and distant physical and emotional domains and holds them to a light I’ve not seen them in before.” —The Kenyon Review

Writing the Memoir: from Truth to Art

“No student of memoir writing could fail to learn from this wise, pragmatic, and confiding book. One hears on every page the voice of an intelligent and responsive teacher, with years of thinking about memoir behind her.” —Vivian Gornick

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