Elizabeth Morton's Reviews > Bullet Hole Riddle

Bullet Hole Riddle by Miriam Barr
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it was amazing

There are skeletons in these closets.

Miriam Barr's 'Bullet hole riddle' is a journey in poetry dedicated to 'untold stories'. Brave and compelling, Barr transports her reader through an emotional metamorphosis. There is a quiet hero in our midst.

There is something Biblical about the way in which Miriam Barr's slender collection kicks off. 'In the beginning was the word' is turned on its head. 'At the time', pens Barr, 'there was too much to say / so she said nothing'.

'Bullet hole riddle' is an expression of the unspeakable, an exposition of the 'no's that are taken as absences. Here are the empty speech-bubbles we blow into the world. Here are the exits we could have taken, but didn't. And the trajectories we commit to, if only because we can't find the words to say otherwise.

Bullet hole riddle is a poetical triptych. The first segment transports the reader into a nightmare, 'Bullet', where an 'unwanted history' is etched out. Here the narrative is passive but immediate. We are sometimes frozen 'snake-like in pre-strike', sometimes propelled by dissonant forces. There are dissociations, euphemisms, intellectualisations and episodic lapses. Such narrative holes lend potency to this story, and each omission serves as a statement. As our hero wonders - 'there must be something there, right'.

Barr works ex negativo. Like a biographical Rubin's Vase, people are defined by what they are not – ‘He was not my uncle Bully or my father’, what they do not know – ‘knowing nothing’, and what they do not do – ‘the legs did not / run me away’.

This is a tale of gaps. But Barr knows that a hole can form a vestibule, that x is a placeholder for something, that the lines between things demark and define them.

'Hole', the second part of this tale, sets about picking up the pieces. Inertia remains - 'She'll be a pause there / for a while', and there are silences - 'my throat full of empty voice'. But there is something hopeful in this chapter, and our protagonist is 'learning the shape 'no' makes'.

'Riddle', the final third, seems to be about working out how to live and how to love in the wake of insult. This is a person with training-wheels, sussing out how they fit in a peopled world. Gardens are planted. These are new beginnings. 'In time, even the heart / is new'. There is a shifting, from the passive voice into something active, affirmative.

'Bullet hole riddle' is a deeply unsettling, beautifully crafted, iteration of trauma. Barr's words are scrupulously chosen. This is poetry not afraid to get personal, and it will cut you - but has bandages to wrap the wounds.

Barr concludes with the commencement of a shared history:

'A series of living prints
we construct each other
and we construct ourselves

I have someone else's dream sometimes:
we are painting our insides golden'
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 26, 2015 – Shelved

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