November 10, 2016

Barbara Crooker


I woke in a cold rain to the train wreck that is our country.
How did it go so wrong: the blame-check that is our country.

We thought love could trump hate,
but bigotry won, this flaming deck, our country.

Red spread all over the map
eclipsing the blue paint specks: our country,

too, though it doesn’t feel that way this morning:
the Right hold a blank check to ruin our country.

Be the light you want to see in the world, Barbara.
Don’t let the dark that’s been unleashed overtake our country.

Poets Respond
November 10, 2016

[download audio]


Barbara Crooker: “I am heartbroken over the election; we worked in every way we could here in Pennsylvania, housing three volunteers, phone banking, canvassing, doing data entry … I thought our country was better than this.” (website)

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April 18, 2016

Barbara Crooker


after Dorianne Laux’s “Men”

It’s tough being a woman, feeling you’re an object to be bought,
an elusive quarry, something to be chased and caught,
when you know you’re more than that. So pull me a draught,
Charlie, give me something dark and frothy. Wars have been fought
for less—I came in wondering what a girl’s got
to do to get herself noticed? I mean, I’m so hot,
I could melt neon. You want my number? Well, jot
it down, big boy. I won’t call you. I have a karaoke slot
at nine p.m.; I’m thinking a Madonna medley will do. Lots
of water under this dam. I want to be a player, not a mascot.
I want something bathed in dark chocolate, with a nougat
center. I want a lobster in my steaming pot,
champagne on ice, and two chairs by a wrought
iron table on a terrace in France. Whoever sought
the fountain of youth can forget it. The lies the movies taught?
They’re a crock, a foolish dream, a vicious plot.
Life isn’t fair, you’ve got to play your cards, no matter what.
I could have been Dean of Women, a cover girl. An exot-
ic dancer at a go-go bar. Or married to a guy with a yacht.
But I’m not. So pour me another shot of Jack, O Great Zot.

from Rattle #51, Spring 2016
Tribute to Feminist Poets

[download audio]


Barbara Crooker: “I’ve never understood women who preface remarks with ‘I’m not a feminist, but …’ If you’re a woman, then wanting equal pay for equal work, control over your own body and your own reproductive rights, etc., ought to be part of your birthright. As humans on this fragile planet, we all ought to be working for equality in all areas, from the marketplace to the voting booth, every day.” (website)

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March 12, 2011

Barbara Crooker


I’m upstairs in my teenage bedroom, lights out,
listening to WABC, Cousin Brucie, under the covers,
my hair so tightly wound around wire rollers
the size of juice cans that it’s impossible to sleep.
But how else can I get it to flow from the center part,
then flip at the ends in symmetrical s’s? How can I
go to school, if my hair’s not right? Who will I fall
in love with, who will take me to the prom, who
wrote the book of love
? I lean out the window, no
streetlights here in the country, just Orion’s cinch belt,
Cassiopeia’s W, the same letter I wear on my chest
when I cheer for the team, All for you, Red and Blue.
I’m the only one who can do a flip and a cartwheel-
split. In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight
I wail along in my tinny voice, unable to imagine a village
in Africa, children squatting in the dust, but somehow
I tap into the small stream of longing that floats
off those high thin notes. Out there, in the night sky,
the dusty river of the Milky Way is flowing, pulsing
toward the future, where s’s flip to question marks,
little fish hooks, that bob and dip in the current,
go where it takes them.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007

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March 11, 2011

Barbara Crooker


We spent those stifling endless summer afternoons
on hot front porches, cutting paper dolls from Sears
catalogs, making up our own ideal families
complete with large appliances
and an all-occasion wardrobe with fold-down
paper tabs.
Sometimes we left crayons on the cement
landing, just to watch them melt.
We followed the shade around the house.
Time was a jarful of pennies, too hot
to spend, stretching long and sticky,
a brick of Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy.
Tomorrow’d be more of the same,
ending with softball or kickball,
then hide and seek in the mosquitoey dark.
Fireflies, like connect-the-dots or find-the-hidden-
words, rose and glowed, winked on and off,
their cool fires coded signals
of longing and love
that we would one day
learn to speak.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001


Barbara Crooker: “I am a ‘real Fifties girl,’ as the little girl next door said when ‘Happy Days’ aired. I live in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, where I garden with no help from the deer, groundhogs, and rabbits who think it’s their produce section.” (web)

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December 15, 2010

Review by Marjorie MaddoxRadiance by Barbara Crooker

By Barbara Crooker

Word Press
P.O. Box 541106
Cincinnati, OH 45254-1106
ISBN# 1-932339-91-4
2005, 84pp., $17.00

Seventeen-time nominee for a Pushcart Prize, recipient of numerous national awards, and author of ten chapbooks, Barbara Crooker was long overdue for a first-book award. With the publication of Radiance (2005 Word Press Prize), her audience can once again applaud. The collection glows with what we wake to, what we breathe in, what we sleep by. Radiance catches the joy of shadows and the shadows of joy in the rooms where we live every day. I first encountered Crooker’s work as a judge for the 2004 Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition. Her poem “Ordinary Life” broke from the rituals of the mundane into exuberance. Likewise, the poems in Radiance spotlight “blue and black graffiti shining in the rain’s / bright gaze.” They wear an “evening’s melancholy shawls.” They exhale “the glories / of breath.”

The book moves deftly between struggle and song. A “congregation of grackles” is “a long black scarf unwinding / in the cold west wind”; “Even dandelions glitter / in the lawn, a handful of golden change.” Crooker sees life as “a pile of sorrows, yes, but joy / enough to unbalance the equation.” In her aptly titled poem “Sometimes I Am Startled Out of Myself,” the geese “stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.”

In Radiance, we feel the pain-wrought stitches—a son with autism; an ailing parent; a friend dying of cancer; a first child, who “was born, then died, on her due date”; a hectic life that ironically leaves no time to fix a broken clock. Through Crooker’s words, nature and art work together to make us whole, even if the mending is temporary. Through the masterpieces of Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Manet, we see “a blizzard of color and light.” The “black flag / of pain” becomes “white / lilacs in a crystal vase.” The healing is artistic, physical, and spiritual.

Although “the sky winds its own long note, a radiant heartache blue,” as Crooker explains, she and her husband sing “loudly as we can, in our tone deaf voices / against the coming rain, the following dark.” As readers, we want to take up the song. Maybe if we do, “the suffering world” will indeed “[recede] in the background.” Radiance is half Blues, half Spiritual—contagious with hope. Just try not to join in.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005


Marjorie Maddox, Director of Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, has published 3 full-length books of poetry, 5 poetry chapbooks, 1 children’s book, and over 280 short stories, essays and poems in journals and anthologies. She is co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets of Pennsylvania; her short story collection, What She Was Saying, was 1 of 3 finalists for the 2005 Katherine Anne Porter Book Award.

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May 15, 2010

Review by Dori AppelMore by Barbara Crooker

by Barbara Crooker

C&R Press
812 Westwood Avenue
Chattanooga, TN 37405,
2010, 68 pp., $14.95

As a fan of Barbara Crooker’s two previous collections, Radiance and Line Dance, I approached her newest, More, with an enthusiast’s high expectations. In this latest volume I found everything I’d hoped for: keen observation, generosity of spirit, supple wit— and more!

The title is a perfect choice, and while Crooker speaks often about desire, longing, and the wish to make things last, her bracing appetite bears no relation to greed. A celebrant of food (olive oil, salt, all five flavors of chocolate), she also pays enthusiastic tribute to the miracle of a new day: “dawn turned up its dimmer/ set the net of dew on the lawn to shining” (“Narrative”), and her fellow celebrants : “every dog within fifty miles is off-leash, running/ for the sheer, dopey joy of it” (“Strewn”). “Excuses, Excuses” includes this tender and memorable tribute to her husband of thirty years: “I would choose you again if I met/you at a party, even if I could see/the future, the damaged child/ the bodies that creak and sag.”

Walking on the beach, Crooker’s “Surfer Girl” leads us with easy humor from a description of herself “on the far side of sixty, athletic as a sofa” to her youthful alter-ego “lithe and long-limbed, tanned California bronze,/ short tousled hair full of sunshine.” Longing and whimsy merge as she feels the wind at her back and imagines the bliss of catching the perfect wave, “choosing my line like I choose these words, writing my name/ on water, writing my name on air.”

Here, as in many other poems, touring the natural world in her company is an invigorating experience. In the collection’s opening selection: “A thin comma moon rises orange. a skinny slice of melon,/ so delicious I could drown in its sweetness. Or eat the whole/ thing, down to the rind” (“How the Trees on Summer Nights Turn into a Dark River”). A variety of small birds flit among the pages, autumn’s late bare branches are saluted after “the burning bush has given up, slipped out/ of its scarlet dress” (“The Mother Suite”), and a stone “that lies there, inert, nothing but itself” ultimately gives voice to its “one long song. Something about eternity. Something about the sea” (“Geology”).

The ekphrastic poems of the book’s third section take a number of striking turns. I particularly liked the dismissal of critics who “fail to see the forest/ for the brushstrokes, the celestial city in the centrifugal clouds” (“Late Turners”). Crooker is clearly an ardent appreciator of clouds: rolling, expanding, changing their colors and shapes, being pulled apart like taffy, and in one poem’s moving conclusion, bleaching themselves pure white—with a poignantly darker lining: “White,/ the memory of itself, what you see before/you fall into bed at night, into the arms of sleep./ or the long tunnel you swim through/on that last journey home (“White”).

In the beautifully harrowing journey of “Demeter,” the poem’s movement is in an opposite direction, from darkness to light: “It was November when my middle daughter/ descended to the underworld. She fell/off her horse straight into Coma’s arms./ He dragged her down, wrapped her in a sleep/so deep I thought I would never see her again.” Eventually, the daughter rises from her coma, heals, and resumes her life. For her parents, however, seen in a snapshot, “drinking coffee and smiling,” there will always be the hovering awareness of possible, irreplaceable loss.

More is the work of a poet who understands the paradox of fulfillment within impermanence—reading these poems feels like a wake-up call to notice. The penultimate selection, “Strewn,” closes with lines that capture the collection’s essence and Crooker’s readiness to meet life’s exhilarating, sometimes painful, embrace: “All of us broken, some way/ or other. All of us dazzling in the brilliant, slanting light.”


Dori Appel’s collection of poems, Another Rude Awakening is published by Cherry Grove Collections. Her poems have also appeared in many journals, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and Calyx, as well as in a number of anthologies, including When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple (Papier Mache Press) and From Here We Speak (Oregon State University Press). A playwright as well as a poet, her plays have been widely produced in the United States and internationally. Three of her full-length plays are published by Samuel French and a number of her monologues are included in anthologies. She was the winner of the Oregon Book Award in Drama in 1998, 1999, and 2001.

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May 5, 2010

Review by Barbara CrookerSeeded Light by Edward Byrne

by Edward Byrne

Turning Point
PO Box 541106
Cincinnati, OH 45254
ISBN 9781934999783
2009, 102 pp., $18.00

Seeded Light, Edward Byrne’s sixth collection of poetry, takes its title from a quote by Pablo Neruda, “The immense deserted night set up its formation of colossal figures that seeded light far and wide,” and the different qualities and forms that the light takes are the heart of these poems, graceful and musical lyrics set in flexible couplets which take us on journeys to places as far flung as Curacao; Lisbon; Fayette County, West Virginia; the White Mountains of New Hampshire; the Colorado Rockies; Wyoming; Wildwood, NJ; LeHavre, France.

A number of other themes also thread throughout this book: journeys, explorations, travel; love and loss. Look at the number of participles in the titles alone: waiting, burning, returning, leaving (3 poems), sailing, envying, awaiting, descending, listening, invoking, and rafting. All of these imply an action, one that is ongoing, and Byrnes adds to this with his use of the second person, inviting the reader to participate: “We leave, believing we’ll never return again” (“Returning to Your Father’s Farm”). There is also a sense of invocation as well as invitation. Byrnes wants us to come along, to see the “Church Burning,” the “Wharf at Sunset,” the “Rainbow over Snow-Covered Landscape,” “Winter Nightfall in a Seaside Village,” or to spend “Easter Weekend: Sunrise by the Bay.”

But the theme that runs strongest in the book is light, in all its varieties. There’s starlight, “that nightly slide of stars” (“Mountain Meadow: Night Climb After a Storm”); moonlight, a “gibbous moon . . . now rising // like an ivory fan” (“Constellations Over Colorado”); sunrise, that “rubs its colors across slim clouds” (“Easter Weekend: Sunrise by the Bay”); noonday sun, whose “glare appeared imperial, sovereign over everything” (“Curacao: Notes from a Summer Memoir”); a rainbow, “smear across / our frosted windshield” (“Rainbow over Snow-Covered Landscape”); forest fires and lightning, “flames flowered along each / ridge” (“Lightning Strike”); and artificial light: lamplight, candlelight, traffic lights, neon signs.

my window, where aligned hundred-watt
      bulbs of house security lights are now
shimmering and shining up from those
      shallow puddles offering their own bright

reflections as guides in the dark, replacing
      this night’s sleep far array of missing stars.
(“Revision by Lamplight”)

Indeed, this book contains a whole vocabulary of light.

In Byrne’s landscapes, there’s a sense of the ephemeral, a sense that all of this is passing away before our eyes. Those stars shine with “light from times already passed” (“Rafting the Rapids”). And as time passes, he confronts a litany of losses: when love goes astray (“Night Vision,” “After Leaving the Hotel,” “Constellations over Colorado”), loss of a parent (“Wyoming Elegy”), the losses inherent in the titles: “After the Miscarriage,” “Coronary Thrombosis,” “After the Aneurysm,” “Spring Sunset: Learning About the Death of a Friend”; the jazz and blues melancholy in the echoes of Lester Young backing Billie Holliday, “I tried somehow / to take into account how far apart we already were” (“Listening to Lester Young”).

This constant awareness of the passage of time and the shifting of relationships give the poems a deeper emotional resonance, and the tonal quality of elegy:

                    . . .And yet, today only one
            thing matters: somewhere under the enormous
summer sky of Wyoming spreading
           over everything, where even this wild river
threading its way through the moonscape
           territory before us will soon have begun to run
dry, that woman, who once knew how to love
           all the small wonders of her world, now lies still
           (“Wyoming Elegy”)

But although there is darkness present in this collection, a love that’s “come undone,”(“After Leaving the Hotel”) whether by illness, suffering, or death, there is always light, from the slimmest of glimmers to full moony illumination, and it is that light, seeded throughout, that we will remember, long after we close the pages and turn off the lamp.


Barbara Crooker’s work has appeared in magazines as diverse as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, Highlights for Children, and The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA). She is the recipient of the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance, (Word Press 2008), which won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; and More (C & R Press, 2010).

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