Rusty Barnes is a 2018 Derringer finalist and author of the story collections Breaking it Down (Sunnyoutside Press 2007) , Mostly Redneck (Sunnyoutside Press 2011), and Kraj The Enforcer: Stories (Shotgun Honey 2019), as well as four novels, Reckoning (Sunnyoutside Press, 2014), Ridgerunner (Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books, 2017), Knuckledragger (Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books 2017) and The Last Danger (Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books 2018), His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies, like Dirty Boulevard: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Lou Reed (Down & Out Books 2018), Best Small Fictions 2015, Mystery Tribune, Goliad Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Red Rock Review, Porter Gulch Review and Post Road. His poetry collections include On Broad Sound (Nixes Mates Press, 2016) and Jesus in the Ghost Room, (Nixes Mates Press 2017). He founded and edits Tough, a journal of crime fiction and occasional reviews. Find him on Twitter @rustybarnes23
When you sit down to read a book titled, 'Redneck Poems,' you sort of expect the pieces to be full of pickup trucks, beer drinking, backyard fucking, and a few yee-haws. Well there are no yee-haws in Mr. Barnes' collection but there is a truck, a couple of beers, and some serious backyard fucking. The thing is, these poems are not about trucks or beer or fucking; they're about the ways that people interact with each other, the things they do right and the things they do wrong, and the consequences. They're about things that happen and what we're left with. They're lush with imagery and full of place. They're thematically subtle; there is no beating you over the head, only a gentle, or in the case of 'Rebellion of the Flesh' not so gentle, kick in the gut.
'Summer, Shelling Peas,' is probably my favorite, and it takes a moment in time, stops it and lays it open for us to feel.
'High School Chick Fight.' is great in a different kind of way, taking us to the edge of lust and peril.
'Redneck Poems' in the end has nothing to do with being redneck, and everything to do with being human.
I loved it. I mean, I didn't want to put it down and could have read another ten pages or more. Rusty Barnes certainly got my attention. Like he's the real deal and yet, can't help seeing the poet peeking out every once in a while; he has that strange, beautiful way of spinning out a homespun narrative in a down to earth way, but be careful of that carefully meted metaphor that sneaks in there and hits you over the head. Like wham! What happened? Like an epiphany out of nowhere but you get it, you just really get it. I can't provide a sample poem here coz I'm too tired and lazy to type out an entire poem. So y'all gonna have to purchase your own copy. Lovers of poetry, you won't be disappointed.
The main complaint I have on Rusty's books are, they're too dang short. I said this about Breaking it Down, I'm saying it again about Redneck Poems. Mr. Barnes writes folks well, has a spooky ability to get into the skin of any character, man, woman, child, and write them with vivid realism. Be warned, these are not always happy people, but the grit and resolve in which they plow through life in these poems is so inspiring you don't care whether or not they're happy. In fact, you kinda hope they keep on falling on hard times, again and again, so Rusty will keep writing about them.
Rusty Barnes is the kind of writer I hope to be some day. I would read soup labels if he wrote them.
With a voice so original in every poem, from beginning to end ("Tony little girls in slim skirts/never really appealed; give/me bluegals with high-stockings and lovely round thighs/at two ayem in a stripmall/parking lot...Yeah, boy"), Rusty Barnes' "Redneck Poems" is one of those poetry books I can read all the way through, over and over again.
I'm not much into poetry as a rule, but this is just great. I especially loved 'Ode To ____'. A bunch of tight little tales that are just as likely to tug your heart-strings as to make you hurl. Bad and sad and stunningly evocative of a time and place. I wish this guy would write a novel. Failing that, just more stuff like this.
I've enjoyed Barnes's prose for some years now, but had no idea he was a poet as well. Now I know why I enjoy his prose--he has the heart of a poet. Besides being a perceptive writer, he has a gift in capturing youth and love in all its urgent, sloppy, dangerous, touching ways.