Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness

Barbaro by Lin Lifshin
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's review
Mar 16, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: owned-and-still-own, best-i-read-2010-edition
Read from January 16 to 19, 2010 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Lyn Lifshin, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness (Texas Review Press, 2009)

I was not a big Barbaro fan. In the Derby, my money was on Lawyer Ron (and I kept following that financial black hole until his retirement, unfortunately). But after the Preakness, like every other horse fan (and millions of non-horse-fans), I got caught up in the drama of Barbaro's surgeries, seemingly miraculous recoveries, and final decline. And after the publication of The Licorice Daughter a couple of years ago, I figured there would eventually be a Barbaro book from Lyn Lifshin. It happened a lot faster than I expected. And I am, and have been for a very long time, a big Lyn Lifhsin fan.

The biggest problem with the way the outside world relates to Lifshin's writing (this is not, I stress, a problem with the writing itself) is that, like Bukowski, Lifshin can feel rhythm and word choice in her blood. It's either second nature to her or she spends a lot of time revising details that would make your head itch to think about. But when it comes out of the mill at the end of the day, it all looks as if it were dashed off on the back of a cocktail napkin with no thought whatsoever.

“weeks before the
Derby, Barbaro's
days were like
any other, a
stable like
any other

Periwinkle light
behind the spires
at Churchill Downs”
(“As Blossoms Rose and Faded”)

Yes, there are things I'd suggest changing, were they presented to me at a workshop (most notably ending lines with articles, which drives me up the wall), but I wonder if they're not part of the facade of naivete. For what seems dashed-off is quite nicely rhythmic; “PERiwinkle LIGHT beHIND the SPIRES at CHURCHill DOWNS” suggests a horse walking across the paddock cobbles at Churchill, in my mind. (Possibly, given the smaller stress on the “win” in “periwinkle”, a horse on three legs.) And more, so few poets are capable of taking a prose-like interest in a subject and stretching it across a book of poems. While this is not narrative poetry (in the poems that can stand on their own, anyway), it is a collection of lyrics that function as narrative poetry, and that is a fine thing indeed. At the end, then, you have to come at a book like this from two directions. Does it succeed as lyrics, and does it succeed as a narrative? The first question gets a qualified yes; there are a few pieces that one wouldn't be able to pull out and send to a magazine without surrounding pieces for context, but there aren't many of them. As for the second question, absolutely. This is as complete a documentation of the trajectory of Barbaro as any biography, and a more concise one to boot. A must for horse racing fans. ****

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