Barbara Spring,
The Wilderness Within
(PublishAmerica, 2003)

Barbara Spring's first collection of poetry, The Wilderness Within, is notable for a wealth of striking images and apt turns of phrase. It is not an unqualified success, but does provide a series of sensitive and often revealing vignettes.

It is quite apparent from this collection that Spring is a traveler; there are poems sparked not only by the Great Lakes and the prairies of her native Midwest, but also by the Pacific Northwest, the mountains of California, Alaska, the Galapagos, Mexico and Africa, touching subjects as far afield as whalesong, the African night, a lost fawn and the act of creation. There is a near-mythic quality to many of these small works -- most of them are short, seldom more than a page, sometimes no more than three or four lines -- which points to the connections that poetry should make for us, between the world we see and the world that some part of us remembers.

Her language often sparkles, using unexpected images to underscore a heightened awareness of the world, as in "Frog Pond," in which "A madcap chorus/sings of mud moonbeams and love." Diction is fluent, with a Midwestern matter-of-factness to it that provides a good foil for her imagery.

There are drawbacks. There is, in printed poetry, the consideration of how it appears on the page, a factor that many poets consider of critical importance to their work. These have all been centered, which is certainly an option; unfortunately, this brings certain monotony that the poems themselves are not always strong enough to counteract. (It also, for some reason I can't quite determine, seems to diminish the clarity of the line breaks.)

There is also a certain lack of toughness. That in itself is not always a necessarily negative factor, but it does seem to contribute to a lack of depth. I'm not speaking so much in terms of events related, or even conclusions drawn or implied, but more in terms of the wish for a more incisive quality, a harder look at some of these small realities, a sharper focus that brings them to us warts and all. This contributes to a certain "feel good" quality in the collection as a whole -- in the real world, if not in this collection, for every lost fawn that finds its mother, another is hit by a car. That is simply the way of the world and any writer who hopes to give us a look at a reality that matters has to take that into account, even if it remains subliminal. A quality of benign acceptance, unless there is evidence of the cost of the journey, lacks reality. This is even more true when the posture is one of celebration, as it often is in these poems -- if we don't acknowledge the hard places, what's to celebrate?

This is an uneven collection -- not all of the works fulfill the promise of the best, and there are some prose "essays" that should have been foregone or perhaps saved to become part of more finished works. That is, perhaps, the gravest fault with this volume -- one would liked to have seen Spring, who does evidence a keen eye and a sharp pen, peel away another layer of reality and bring us closer to what lies underneath.

- Rambles
written by Robert M. Tilendis
published 17 July 2004

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