John Wall Barger

Praise for The Mean Game

“Love is a mean game, and cruelty in all its forms is a close relative. These vivid, odd, often marvelous poems create brand-new myths that probe unkindness, love, belief, and everything around and in between in Barger’s splendidly original style.” — John Timpane, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The poems in John Wall Barger’s exhilarating new book, The Mean Game, possess the force of an urgent broadcast, all the while rooted in the hypnotic depth of myth. Poems like “This This is the End” and “Utøya” astonish and compel the reader at every turn. It’s rare one finds such powerful poems. This is a fabulous book.” — Ernest Hilbert, author of Caligulan

“The great achievement of The Mean Game is to bring an ancient world forth into the modern one, mapping its madness all too easily over our own. And if the poems of Barger’s collection desire the heroic or yearn toward the sacred and the immortal in order to show us what we have been and could be, it would seem to be that very same desire which drives them back into annihilation, the abyss, the bloody end of the sagas. It is a tale of Icarus, perhaps, with nothing to be learned in the end other than the truth of who we are.” — Cameron MacKenzie, author of The Beginning of His Excellent and Eventful Career

Praise for “Smog Mother” (co-winner of the Malahat Review‘s Long Poem Prize, 2017)

“Smog Mother is a lyrical travelogue interspersed with passages of introspection. The poem, which at times reads almost like a chant, is propelled forward through its use of repetition and rhythm. Due to its stance of ‘slumming’ in the so-called Third World, it is anti-Romantic, as opposed to giving one pretty ‘exotica.’ ‘Smog Mother’ could be seen as an extended riff on Cohen’s ‘Suzanne,’ juxtaposing garbage and seaweed, beauty and ugliness, in ballad-like measures.” — Comments by Judges of Malahat Long Poem prize

Praise for The Book of Festus

“Polyphonic, densely textured, ranging over the city of Halifax in vast time and in space, The Book of Festus is an ambitious and original contribution to the poetry of Atlantic Canada and to the poetry of cities. Through Festus, a personification of the city’s energies and its search for itself, Wall Barger depicts the sordid as well as the healthful dimensions of the city, interweaving geological, historical, ecological, and social motifs. Festus, like epic heroes of old, is on a quest. In this dazzlingly allusive, thoroughly contemporary version of epic, Wall Barger brings the city alive in all its complexity.” — 2016 JM Abraham judge comments

“It is rare that you come across a book of poetry, or any book for that matter, that you read in one sitting, from cover to cover, and then immediately begin to read again. … Yet, this is what happened when I first cracked the pages of The Book of Festus by poet John Wall Barger. […] The Book of Festus brings readers into a world filled with chaotic characters and dream-like images, yet every single line is expertly crafted and vividly clear, every poem load bearing and essential.” — Blair Trewartha, Open Book Toronto

The Book of Festus … is undeniably Joycean. Just as Bloom in Ulysses simultaneously wanders the Dublin of his mind and the Dublin of June 16, 1904, Festus simultaneously traverses the Halifax of his memories–the “city of himself”–and the contemporary Halifax of his misplaced bike … Festus has an acute understanding of Nova Scotia’s past–a past where First Nations’ culture was overwritten by European colonialism, and where Black Canadian communities suffered terrible discrimination …” — Michael Prior, The Winnipeg Review / Arc

Praise for Hummingbird

“Anyone who writes with the flourish and intensity of John Wall Barger deserves to be read and re-read. His ability to linger over a scene, to ruminate over its history and give himself over to the poetic impulse is complete and genuine. […] Barger’s [title poem] is effective because of its commitment to the brutality of images and to a carefully conceived rhythmic strategy that meshes with that brutality. Comparatively short lines, enjambments, and deep indents drive the poetry forward, give it a wonderful immediacy borne up by an abiding, fearful curiosity very much in keeping with Barger’s predecessors and the subterranean narrative tradition out of which he is writing here. A fascinating poem, and well worth the journey.” — David Godkin, Malahat Review

“John Wall Barger is one of the rare, essential poets: a poet who has something to say. There’s no bombast in his work, no grandstanding, no pyrotechnics. Just meaning and heart. […] Clarity is risky. Too many are unwilling to go there. They hide behind ambiguity and obscurity. Big words and operatic melodrama. Barger’s work is not like that. It is precise and playful, replete with delicate and brutal detail […] That’s what I look for in poetry. And that is Barger’s impact. Words that feel at home inside our heads, that connection. — Sharon McCartney, author of Metanoia

“In John Wall Barger’s Hummingbird, being alive sometimes seems like one flourish after another. But these are not mere embellishments or affectations. Barger has a truly innovative spirit and an eye for the unusual and unforgettable. These poems add up to a journey around the world, each step as intensely focused and daring as the one before. Prepare to have your senses exploded, your nerves tested, your love of high notes taken to breathtaking new spheres.” — 2013 Raymond Souster Award Judges Comments

“Barger has an eye for arresting images, and the squalor he meets with across the globe offers plenty of opportunities to deploy his talent.” — Zane Koss, The Bull Calf

“… gritty, innovative work written with great impact, skill and mastery …” — Philip Thompson, The Chronicle Herald 

Praise for Pain-proof Men

“…his masks don’t just stare back, but expose a captivating floodgate of mind, a masculine heart on trial—in other words, the face stripped bare.” — Garth Martens, Malahat Review

“Barger does not disappoint. Pain-Proof Men captures wonderful snippets of contemporary Halifax in all its salty, hardscrabble glory, even as it explores the poet’s own harsh inner world.” — Mark Sampson, Free Range Reading