Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Barrett Warner


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Barrett Warner is one of those people who never drinks enough water so that his eyes get yellow by late afternoon. He tells everyone it’s from eating marigolds. He is the author of Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? (Somondoco, 2016) and My Friend Ken Harvey (Publishing Genius, 2014). He works with horses on a Maryland farm where he’s kicked for a living and writes as if he’s always a little bit thirsty.

Barrett Warner is someone I know from Bennington, like Shawna below. (Reminder that finalists were chosen anonymously and solely on the merit of their poems).

Barrett is also a rare character where even his bios are poems. His voice in singular in its huskiness-like the voice of a corn field. If Barrett were a fashion designer, and had to pick just one singular look, he would pick two: humor, and drama. He combines these traits effortlessly, holding up a fun house mirror to humanity. Emphasis on the fun. Emphasis on the house. Describing Barrett is tricky, because nearly every sentence out of his mouth is a poem. He sets a high standard for the rest of the world.

I’m going to stop trying to meet it and introduce you shortly to the poem of Barrett’s I selected to be in the top ten for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, named after Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA’s first Live Your Dream Award recipient. All of the submitter’s entry fees went to funding our second award, given to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to pursue her education.

The poem, “All the Latest Talk About Paradise Concerns Butterflies,” is deceiving in its orderly couplets, its conversational tone that might imply a casualness to a reader just giving it a once-over. As much as Barrett’s poems are humorous, see:

Most people love butterflies, but never know
what to say to a butterfly. They just shrug.

Like, a butterfly sits on the bench beside them
and they are all looking away and clutching

their elbows close to their bodies.”

and its absurdity (what is the butterfly doing at the bench? Is it catching a bus? Its breath? Waiting for its son to get out of school? It doesn’t matter, just accept that it’s happening), but just as the poems are humorous, to repeat, Barrett is deadly serious.

There is a great political tone to this poem, and not just for the environmentalist, but on a larger level–we are poisoning the beauty in the world. Is there anything more topical following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castilo, the many deaths that precede theirs? The killing of five cops in Dallas. We are poisoning the beauty in the world.

But Barrett’s poem, its close, offers some guidance on how to proceed amidst the destruction–with kindness. Rereading this poem today as I prepared to write this post, I fell in love with the poem all over again. The ultimate optimism it offers, that the nourishment of the arts, for one interpretation, can be of aid in these times. Barrett’s poem has aided me.

I hope too it helps you.

And lest you think I didn’t ask him about a woman he admired, Barrett had this to say, “I admire Reverend Joanne Braxton, a mentor who has led me through slave narratives to James Baldwin, from the Spanish Civil War to Iraq War veteran concerns, and to an appreciation of identity diaspora. She taught me how to wrest illumination from a sense of isolation rather than to just dwell on the lonely of it. She taught me other-ness.”

Thank you Barrett, and congrats on your finalist status!

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