Words That Breathe Life on a Page

A Review of Jo VonBargen’s It Ain’t Shakespeare But Oh How It Glows.

I read poetry. I don’t read poetry because it sometimes happens to have a certain rhythm and often rhymes. I read the poets who tell me a story. I love a good story, especially when it is told with vivid and unforgettable imagery.

I have always read James Dickey because I knew James when he was a poet and advertising copy writer and long before he wrote “Deliverance.” I read Billy Edd Wheeler because we rambled through the mountains of West Virginia together.

And I read Carl Sandburg because his words took me down roads I didn’t know existed. And now I read Jo VonBargen. I’m glad I found her. She is as good as they come. Her words are haunting and powerful. Some say they are magical, and I can’t disagree. Take a look at the opening of the poem “Sixteen” in her fascinating book: It Ain’t Shakespeare But Oh How It Glows.

A child

I was a child

you were a handsome

uniform, a freaking vice

grip on my heart

you suddenly sucked out my whole

past and future

with a bloody kiss.

Novelists should write that way, but novelists don’t have the soul or the mastery of words that Jo VonBargen possesses. She doesn’t need characters. She doesn’t need a plot. And yet the stories she tells become part of anyone who reads them.

In novels, you see what’s happening, and that’s good. In Jo VonBargen’s poetry, you not only see what’s happening, you feel what’s happening. And that is even better. Her poetry has a freaking vice grip on my heart. But her words don’t suck out my whole past and future.

They breathe life into it.

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