Nightlight by David Barrick

One of my favourite debut collections from the past few years, David Barrick’s Nightlight is full of strange and invigorating poems. These poems excel at being both attentive and beautifully distracted. They inhabit various dreamscapes that function on a skewed logic. Consider, for instance, the amusing and curious reasoning displayed in the collection’s opening poem, “To Row”: “I drift and listen / for your boat / in the murk, / wishing I had / free hands to row, / fewer paddles to hold.”

Nightlight seems interested in the precariousness of selfhood, and glories in the enmeshed.”

Besides, Barrick captures the curious subjectivity and instability of perspective. And there is a radical openness, across these poems, to the experience of being altered. Nightlight seems interested in the precariousness of selfhood, and glories in the enmeshed. Poems such as “Frankenfish” (one of my favourites) meaningfully disrupts the distance between consumer and consumed, and relies on the anthropomorphic to demonstrate the sheer creepiness of having a body. I like the poem’s final image: “I cannot feel my body / below the roiling water. / Where forest’s edge / meets my line of sight, / amphibious fish haul / themselves over moss, / splitting the lips / of black ponds.”

As indicated in the above excerpt, many of the poems in this collection shine with a sort of supraattentiveness; that is to say, their attentiveness surpasses the knowable and reverts the familiar to the undefinable. Barrick manages this, partly, by integrating universes: the anatomical with the geological, the natural with the supernatural, the everyday with the exceptional, etc. For example, Barrick makes occasional, smart use of anthropomorphisms: “Boulders / bulge in the stream / like white kneecaps.” Furthermore, the poem “Balance” seems to comment on this co-existence of incompatible worlds. Describing a dancing man holding two slices of pizza, the poem goes: “People moved past as if two existential planes had fused but re- / fused to comingle. Suitcases, fedoras, Hugo Boss, slickers: he / boogied and slipped through, a shabby apparition slam dancing / thin air.

Divided into 5 sections and including around 70 poems, Nightlight is a generous debut. In proper dream form, the poems switch between pronouns, and they alternate between speaker-as-subject and speaker-aswitness. One of Nightlight’s strengths, the perceiving subject continuously comes into contact with another (or others) and is transformed by the encounter. For example, in “Recurrent Dream #79,” the speaker’s attentiveness destabilizes the self: “The walnuts and pinecones / and acorns are wrapped / with foil paper— / red fireworks inside / the forest’s thistle womb, / fledgling nightingales / singing: who are
you now?”

However, I don’t mean to suggest that Nightlight relies entirely on body-horror and a discomfiting surrealism. Rather, a sweet thoughtfulness pervades the book. These poems are gentle and—I mean this as a compliment—enjoyable. For instance, the book’s first section ends on “Long Range Forecast,” a prose poem that finds the speaker falling—in a seemingly permanent manner—through the air: “Could we live here? I close my eyes and / make my house appear. I open the door, inviting others in for / a continental breakfast […] Outside, / the cow is still falling—spinning end over end, losing her milk, / mooing softly, a storybook sound.” “Lights Out,” another one of my favourite poems from the collection, records two brothers whispering at night: “The art was to speak / in tiny breaths, as if blowing up balloons very slowly and then / loosing them out the window, filling the backyard with small, / tooth- shaped moons.”

I love that final image, and how it encapsulates Nightlight’s ability to be simultaneously gentle and creepy.

David Barrick is the author of the chapbooks Incubation Chamber (Anstruther Press, 2019) and Two Dreams: Stratford and The Copyist (The Alfred Gustav Press, 2022). His poetry has been published in The FiddleheadThe Malahat ReviewPrairie FireEVENTThe Dalhousie ReviewThe Antigonish Review, and other literary journals. David was first runner up in Pulp Literature’s 2021 Magpie Award for Poetry. He lives in London Township (Treaty 6) territory, where he teaches writing at Western University and is Managing Director of the Poetry London reading series.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Palimpsest Press (May 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990293093
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990293092