More Tender, than Sweet: New Book by Rutgers-Camden Poet a Line Drive to Where it Matters

More Tender, than Sweet: New Book by Rutgers-Camden Poet a Line Drive to Where it Matters

Sweet Spot

CAMDEN – No human lives without experiencing some kind of trauma. Rutgers–Camden poet J.T. Barbarese contends that pain is precisely why we create art.  Be it as widely significant as war or as everyday as loss or perhaps someone else’s suffering altogether, trauma marks moments the writer simply cannot ignore. Just as a baseball player must connect with “the sweet spot” to knock out a hit, a poet must tap into that tender place of trauma to launch a poem.

Sweet Spot (Northwestern University Press, 2012),  Barbarese’s fifth book of poetry summons a baseball term, and indeed the title poem references his first hit – on the field and off – but the collection of 48 poems draws connections to much more:  history, mythology, memory, and of course sexuality. While each poem drives toward its emotional center, the book is also firmly rooted in local landscapes: Walnut Street, Chestnut Street, City Line Avenue, the El, a South Jersey little league field.  

The associate professor of English at Rutgers–Camden says writing about the region, where he was raised and resided for decades, is more evident in this book because of his recent move to Somerset, New Jersey.

“As you get older, you watch places vanish. Where are they going to be without you remembering them?” he cautions. “These places have become even more important to me now, because I don’t live there anymore.”

J.T. Barbarese
Credit: Mark McCarron

Barbarese’s poems arise from his actual life, which happens to be significantly tied to the region, even if what prompts him to write happened in mere seconds, some decades ago.

From his stroll through Philadelphia that resulted in his literal arriving, by accident, inside someone’s living room in “Walking Cross Town,” to remembering how he learned of JFK’s assassination during a St. Joe’s Prep football rally in “The Nine Rings of JFK” to his real-life neighbor – and famed war hero - “Wild Bill” Guarnere in “Ares,” Barbarese writes what he knows and is grateful for his “luck.”

“[Poetry] has to emerge organically from your own experience. A poem itself becomes an experience of duration, a recreation of time,” he adds.

Luckier still, Barbarese’s experiences include glimpses of the mythic, like when goddesses appear to him in everyday life of which he writes in “Isis” and “Persephone.”

“We can have a particular experience and see a beautiful girl and it’s Athena…That’s how gods and goddesses emerged in literature, as projections of our own deepest needs,” says Barbarese, the recipient of two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Poetry Fellowships.

The editor of StoryQuarterly, the literary magazine founded in 1975 and has featured the work of New York Times best-selling authors and Pulitzer Prize winners, Barbarese recently published a new edition of the publication from its home in Rutgers–Camden.

He is also the author of the books of poetry A Very Small World (Orchises, 2005) The Black Beach (University of North Texas, 2005), which was awarded the Vassar Miller Prize, New Science (University of Georgia Press, 1989), and Under the Blue Moon (University of Georgia Press, 1985). In addition, Barbarese, who also publishes short stories and critical essays, translated Euripides’ The Children of Heracles (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).

Barbarese teaches undergraduate and graduate courses at Rutgers–Camden, including writing workshops in the Rutgers–Camden MFA in Creative Writing Program. Courses he’s taught over the years include: “10 Books I Should Have Read By Now,”  “The Modern American Novel: Wharton to DeLillo,” and “British and American Romanticism.”

Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan
(856) 225-6627