Like to the Lark
Upswell Publishing, $24.99 pb, 129 pp
A book review is a review of a book. This sounds obvious enough but can put the reviewer in a position they would not wish to be in as a more casual reader: that of not just reading a book’s poems, but also feeling a need to attend to the rest of the book – that is, the book’s paratexts.
Like to the Lark, the follow-up to Stuart Barnes’s Glasshouses (2016), includes one hundred pages of poems. It begins with six endorsements and four epigraphs, and concludes with two sections of notes: one of five pages, one of two, plus two-and-a-bit pages of acknowledgments and thank-yous. It also includes three named sections. There are no fewer than sixteen blank pages after the poetry.
Where does the impetus, or model, for all this extra-poetical prose, this volume thickening, come from – and who is it for? Academia is one answer to the first question; America, another. Even well-established writers in the United States lard their books with praise. I can’t convince myself that readers need or want it. As for reviewers – and prize judges – I think they want to make up their own minds.
In my ignorance, I had thought of the lark as being English, or European. It largely is, but the singing bush lark (or Horsfield’s bush lark, after the American naturalist who first described it, in 1821, in Java) is native to Australia (and New Guinea and some islands of Indonesia). I don’t know what constitutes local lark courting ritual, but I want to be hit by the poems themselves pretty quickly.