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August 06 , 2008

Swimming Laps in August


The author says of this collection:

“My poems are my life on paper, in snapshots of course.Itry to recapture the emotions ofremembered scenes and to render them with a moderately subdued passion. Actually, Ihavelong withheld some of these poems, fearing they are a little too personal, but with age comes loss of inhibition, perhaps a discreet loss. I hold handswith the child in me, youth, . . . all the me’s, none of which vanishes from whatever I am.Not that I am proud of all of them, but I may be more accepting of them now than I sometimes was.”

Barlow looks back on careers as WWII celestial navigator in the Air Force (inservice, 1943-6),Presbyterian minister (1950-),and educator.Now, anemeritus professor of philosophy(College ofStatenIsland) City University of New York (retired in 1995), he was a professor of religion at Columbia University, 1966-72, and also served as a dean of summer session at the University of Minnesota, 1964-66, andColumbia, 1966-71, as Associate Dean of Faculty, at Staten Island Community College, a predecessor to theCollege ofStaten Island, 1972-76.Earlier, he served as a campus minister, in Eugene Oregon (1954-60)and in Pittsburgh, Pa. (1960-62),and still earlier, as parish minister in New York, Tennessee, and Alabama. In 1950-51, he taught English literature at East Tennessee State University, in his hometown.

He has written poems since boyhood.Here he has selected over seventy. The themes include love and marriage, parenting, one’s own childhood, and life in community.

Here are a few excerpts: –

About an eleven month old son: "He salutes me and gives me a smile like/eternal blessing and a handful of straw /he has pulled from the broom."

About the lonely child living in the midst of remote relatives and preoccupied neighbors: "Crowded /by circles of kin /neighbors /fieriest stars /the nearest /distant ones

/more inviting /Distant all . . ."

In the title poem, which he actually composed while swimming,shortly before a birthday in his sixties, he sees the water stretching out like a magic carpet, yet can’t free himself from the thought of all he has not done, the books he has not read and of course the cruelty of time’s passing; he ends the poem saying,in rhythm with his strokes:: ". . .miles like inches the carpet /flies it flies /into years old how many now."

As his ninety-one year old mother lay dying twelve hundred miles away, he woke from a dream and captured it in this poem: "Lady wrapt in ink blue /coat in soft lamplight

/kerchief about your head /all set to leave /us silent poised /silhouetted /on the edge of the chaise longue /that reaches back to the beginning

/of time . . . ."

An elegaic example is a little poem in memory of the environmntalist, Margaret Mee:

"Forest seraph /pleading for it /for Amazonia’s orchids /for blossoms that open at night /pleading as for a child /about to be taken"

Among the poems about love is this one, from a fairly early date:

"A portrait /come alive /to my Beau of Bath /Awkward as sixteen

/both of us /innocent as five /I fell into her eyes /certainI was received

the moment never dies".

In the fourth grouping of poems, which the author calls Orbit, we find this one about the meaning of baseball: the titlealludes to Protagoras’ saying, “Man is the measure of all things”: "Reachinto theair /and stop with your hand /a white sphere /likethe moon /See it again rocketing /from your undulant salute /up the blue and glint of the sky /arching against outfield /green and the dust that edges /diamond and scurrying feet /Take awell-formed proposition /of once growing wood /Extending yourself/youhit the ball /Runningyoucelebrate".

Barlow, known to his friends also as a humorist, includes some humor, though it is often mixed with a bit of pathos,here, in such poems as "Man in a Tub," "Interrupted," "Hope," "Odd Moments," "Sunday in the Thirties," "At Waterloo Village," "Altar Call," "over a lost fountain pen," and "Vox Humana."

In his Preface he invites the reader to look for common ground and to enjoy reading the poems.

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