John Wall Barger
$18.00 CDN / $18.00 US | Trade Paperback
The title is a literal translation of the Arabic word fakir, which refers to both a Sufi holy man who performs feats of endurance or magic, and a common street beggar who chants the scriptures. In the world of carnivals, a fakir or torture king would go to great lengths to demonstrate his immunity to pain — by, for example, lying on a bed of spikes and then asking an audience member to break a concrete block on his chest with a sledgehammer. The voice that emerges in Pain-proof Men is that of a derelict who sings the names of God during the day, and moonlights at a circus as a human pincushion at night. The various personas in these poems (all manner of tricksters — from scarecrows, clowns, sailors, John Wayne, Clark Gable, to the confessional poet himself) are men in pain. All, however mythic and powerful, have failed at love and work and life, and feel an overwhelming ache. This human hurt, that connects us all, links the many voices in this multifarious, ludic book.
“Barger has an ear, so all pieces have that musical buzz, the rig-a-jig of craft. Barger’s use of assonance and consonance stitches “Canvasmouth” together with something of the scarecrow’s hang-together tilt, its poor body, which is the male body, an analogy he complete with fatalist suffering: “New flesh dress. / Lightning in the nails. He looks down / at the torment. Skin’s a loose fit. And this loneliness. Am I old? He steps calm as a dream […] past the awful birds that pecked his straw / every day since he was made.” This diction, this character, stays with us, the closing chord of a well-wrought tune. The poet has given us more than craft, he has given us content.”—The Malahat Review
The “poems sing through a maze of faceted opalescence that tends toward brilliancy. ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’ provides a good example. The dénouement comes about halfway through as the poet stitches the two halves of the poem together with the statement ‘What they did for seven minutes,/ we failed at for seven years./ To improvise.’ (74) ‘They’ are a Taipei dance troupe doodling through Pachelbel’s Canon, and the same piece provides the background music to his wedding ceremony. The quoted failure contains the real action in the poem. The shaved dancing bodies, the marriage and spoken vows, the big rigs ripping along the TransCanada, and a dog ‘licking / a nasty lump on her paw’ (74): all these point knowing fingers at the young couple’s inability to improvise…. The book reads like a rousing whoop-up, and never breaks stride – a grand accomplishment in our fractured lives.” —Prairie Fire
“Along comes John Wall Barger with this series of stream-of-consciousness vignettes, within the imagist tradition but not squarely… just crystal pools of rare insight.”—Voice Magazine
“Barger does not disappoint. Pain-Proof Men captures wonderful snippets of contemporary Halifax in all its salty, hardscrabble glory, even as it explores the poet’s own harsh inner world.”—Free Range Reading Blog