An Introduction to David Bartone by Zach Savich

“Dad, I want to tell you the most horrible thing happened to us this winter,” writes David Bartone in “Entry: Warm as if by your ghost,” a section from Loudville, his intimate almanac of “a house and its property” – and the properties of mind he inhabits there. Tellingly, Bartone doesn’t confess “the most horrible thing” but only his desire to tell it; a reader who’s ready to overhear a searing admission, or to receive it on behalf of the paternal ghost, is left with “the summer heat that compels” the poet to speak, not a specific message. This denies revelation, but revels in “the process of returning inward to sentiment.” Bartone regards this process as a survival skill. It produces “sacred feeling,” which may survive a “maximum of information” that, in revealing too much, shares little.

Is this coy, to sidle up, swivel, defer, favoring the “impatience for style” over bare narration? Probably. But coyness can charm, grant mercy, honor privacy, assume communion, outlast a disposable point. “You know what I mean,” Bartone says, and even we don’t, we get the gesture. “Isn’t it clear?” he asks, and we see that, more than trying to get a message through, Bartone is trying to get through a season. In “the process of returning inward to sentiment,” he suggests, some sentiments come up, come out, come over us, “past the point of process,” and so style, however cranky, can bring us “words plain as tubers,” a dawn sky that will “turn into lager.”

Those descriptions, and the sense that “process” is closer to a “processional,” as in a parade, than to the “processual,” as in a trial, recall James Schuyler, whom Bartone invokes directly: “‘Evenings in Vermont’ from Schuyler’s Hymn to Life makes sense to us here.” Wayne Koestenbaum puts Schuyler’s longer poems in the genre of “the many-acred playpen, crib, or continent; the pasture for grazing, for marveling at the freak acrobatics of an indolent poet expanding and contracting the line’s bellows, creating the sine curve of remembering and forgetting.” This “Entry,” and Loudville, belongs to this genre, in which Bartone is “looking around inside” each instant for something to say (“the nervous bouncing of the knee is the articulation of the thinking that causes the next walk”), which, although it may be a pretense, can lead to precision (as in Schuyler, this poem can teach you true facts about plants).

But indolence, or rest, is also labor: at the end of the poem, Bartone looks up at the call of an owl that he “will have to look up by its call.” He imagines how that call “draws the listener” – who is and is not the poet himself, and his readers – “to the edge of the midnight bed.” His poem sits up with us at that edge.

Read “Entry: Warm as if by your ghost” by David Bartone >>