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Vanishing Acts

Vanishing Acts

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Brian Barker


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
72 pages, 6 x 9

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry


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  • Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Book

In Vanishing Acts, Brian Barker cements his reputation as one of contemporary poetry’s great surrealists. These prose poems read like dreams and nightmares, fables and myths. With a dark whimsicality, Barker explores such topics as extinction, power, class, the consequences of tyranny and war, and the ongoing destruction of the environment in the name of progress.

A linked sequence of poems forms the book’s backbone, with an oracular voice from the future heralding the return—or hoped for return—of common animals. Part lyrical odes, part creation myths, part excerpts from a bizarre guide for naturalists, these poems mix fact and fiction, science and fable to create an unsettling vision of a dystopian world stricken by extinction, one where the world’s last catfish sleeps “in the shadow of a hydroelectric dam.” The imaginative language and bizarre stories of these poems are perfectly suited to capture a world that no longer makes sense: a man who wears a toupee to hide an injury inflicted by secret police, a group of villagers who make a bad bargain with a land agent.

The poems in Vanishing Acts straddle the comic and the tragic. They are by turns funny and haunting and ripe with scathing satire. They draw on the genres of speculative and science fiction as much as poetic traditions, and speak to the precarious state of man and the natural world in the twenty-first century.


Brian Barker is the author of two other books of poetry, The Animal Gospels and The Black Ocean (SIU Press, 2011). His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Diagram, Indiana Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, the Washington Post, the Cincinnati Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Colorado Denver, where he is a poetry editor for the literary journal Copper Nickel.


“With its complex imagistic shingling and sensitivity to a world accelerating its own erasure, Vanishing Acts serves as a countermeasure to the fear of such disappearance. These poems don’t evaporate, they resonate. They ‘rise in ecstatic waves’ of the mythical, the marvelous, and the revelatory as Barker two-steps between tenderness and menace. Filtered through a fabulist lens, these cinematic compositions, with their salute to Francis Ponge, startle with extraordinary figurative language. Barker’s poems are exquisitely bizarre documentations, both ethnographic and zoographic, lit with such intelligence and insight that I’m swayed to believe there’s hope for us after all.”—Simone Muench, author of Wolf Centos

Vanishing Acts is an archive of curiosities, an homage to the ardor of our exhausting, consuming, and beautiful preoccupations. Barker's imagination is as resourceful as it is original, repurposing whatever elsewheres it has at hand: the daddy longlegs, the elephants of Carthage, the Marquis de Sade reincarnated into a fly. The collection’s title suggests the disappearance of a world we'll never know in the same way again, but this is also a book about what persists, what re-creates, and what refuses, beyond reason or the appearances of things, to ever really die.”—David Keplinger, author of Another City

“Barker’s new book is a collection of darkly comic fabular prose poems for the ‘nearly extinct.’ He brings his sardonic humor, mythic sensibility, and linguistic inventiveness to these deadpan character-driven vignettes, apocalyptic beast fables, and dramatic monologues spoken by a range of quirky absurdists and grotesques. Although life in Barker’s prose poems is marked by a sense of omnipresent menace, the abiding mood is one of wry appreciation of mystery and marvels, even at their most bizarre or calamitous.”—Anna Journey, author of The Atheist Wore Goat Silk

Vanishing Acts is kaleidoscopic in its brilliance. These prose poems are gems in which wolves’ ‘fur coats will be like saints’ beards soaked in wind,’ grass sprouts from every step of the elk, and cottonmouths ‘swim out of the hair of the drowned.’ These poems are masterful and strange, depicting the twilight of human cruelty in a world on the cusp of rebirth. Inhabited by characters ranging from a strong man and Evel Knievel to a fish thief and monks, each of Barker’s poems is cinematically adroit and lavishly steeped in a sacred gloom: a girl tells the police officer questioning her that the ‘dog was clear like water, like a ghost trying to get in out of the rain;’ soldiers killed in a civil war reenactment are forgotten and bereft of an opportunity for resurrection. Barker flourishes the approaching darkness with sparks and makes uncanny joys in his little, irresistible worlds.”—Alex Lemon, author of Another Last Day and Feverland: A Memoir in Shards