Praise for Smog Mother (Palimpsest Press, Fall 2022)

“Barger’s sophisticated collection not only reminds us of the importance of craft, but one’s endless wonders with what language can do or redeem, and the endless possibilities for one to experience the history and culture of a place, and the infinite stories of its people.” — Jennifer Wong, Hong Kong Review of Books

“John Wall Barger is an observer and a chronicler. As in his previous books he simply presents images and allows his readers to do their own editorializing as if to say (as Elizabeth Bishop does in her poem “The Moose”) “Life’s like that. We know it (also death)”. Reading the poems in this powerful book is like watching a silent documentary film. If you want moralizing and polemics you won’t get it from this poet.” — Jonathan Harrington, Beltway Poetry Quarterly

“The opening titular poem in three parts is quite astonishing, and especially Part II, an Eliotian anaphoric litany of pollution, impoverishments, and the elaboration of a mythical figure (the Smog Mother herself recalling to me again the haunting of Bowling’s Tenderman). A chant is a potent mode through which to enter a book, a door of sound …” — Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews

“While there is so much to unravel in Barger’s words, what really made my heart stagger is his ability to capture an all-encompassing view of a moment, without shame, without sanitising or spicing it up for the reader. And, as readers, we might teeter on the line between morbid interest in that which is not our daily life, to an almost-sexual pleasure of voyeurism. In his lines and line breaks, Barger creates feelings that are hard to pin down. And so, while as a reviewer I struggled to lay these thoughts on paper, one might be better off exploring this work which makes a niche and museum of itself …” —Miriam Calleja, Compulsive Reader

“Pain, in its various forms, often serves as reverence for Barger’s melodious and philosophical parsing. He acutely delves into that eternally hard-pressed space that we as humans can feel a multitude of feelings at once—not an easy task for any tender-hearted writer to attempt! Life will always throw us curveballs, and therefore we can experience joy right along with heartache; this is part of the human experience. Barger masterfully probes these deep questions with solicitude.” — Robyn Earhart, Water~Stone Review

“He bravely asks the question, what can we do … But unlike many poets who pose such questions, he has an answer: show and tell their stories with a well-developed empathy. For anyone who feels disconnected from life and its myriad experiences, reading Smog Mother can reconnect you to the spirit of humanity. In these troubled times, Barger has penned a much-needed, and sure to be beloved, gift.” — Sean Hanrahan, Mad Poets Society

“a savage questing book” — Ernest Hilbert, author of Last One Out

“What a joy to have another book by John Wall Barger. Restless, passionate, and ambitious, Smog Mother is an ecstatic travelogue whose narrator is always on the move, full of yearning and curiosity, even as he remains an outsider in each country that he visits. The poems in Smog Mother ask probing questions about love and empathy, and about what it means to be a spectator to other people’s pain. Barger is introspective and self-critical, yet far more interested in others than in himself; his eye is continually drawn to the margins of society, and to those whose lives are most in danger of being forgotten or erased. A powerful collection.” — James Arthur, author of The Suicide’s Son

“John Wall Barger’s poems are deadly serious and absolutely precise about the world in upheaval, in desire and its excess, in love and pornography, in political protest and ecological catastrophe, in the affirming flame sought but not found. Uncompromising, riveting, a kick in the conscience and the unconscious, a wake up call even at this late point in the evening, the world about to go dark, Smog Mother is written with an infinitely sad and unforgettable pen.” — Indran Amirthanayagam, author of Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant

“‘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.” — Judges of The Malahat Review Long Poem prize, 2017

Praise for Resurrection Fail (Spuyten Duyvil Press, Fall 2021)

“There is something almost spiritual about this book (which should perhaps not surprise me given the title). I think it is this spiritual dimension that compels the poet to excavate below the surface of our world for some elemental cohesion that delivers to the reader that moment of recognition in which we see ourselves in the action of others. In this, John Wall Barger is a worthy guide. This is what the poet does throughout this fine book. He does not say, ‘listen to what I think.’  Instead, he guides us to a situation and points to it as if to ask the reader: ‘What do you think?’” — Jonathan Harrington, in Beltway Poetry Quarterly

“Barger’s impeccable ability to fuse word with emotion brings out intricate intimacy, threaded throughout the collection. We are entirely at the mercy of the author as we navigate a plethora of facets of the human experience: loss, death, suicide, pleasure, reconnection. Time and time again, we are reminded that beauty cannot exist without bleeding brutality …” — Bret Crowle in Freefall

“Demonstrating the author’s sharp eye, tender heart, compassionate spirit, and expert distillations of form, Resurrection Fail represents John Wall Barger at a new peak of gestural intimacy. His poems often begin with vignette and anecdote before opening into wider explorations of his enthusiasms and sorrows. Barger’s facility with subtle tropes in exploring the will to resurrect ourselves, even in the face of failure, can lead to surprising revelations of a human mosaic, vividly alive with metaphor, succinct language, and stunning feeling.” — 2022 Raymond Souster Award Judges Comments

“In this, his fifth book of poetry, the poet travels time, from beat gatherings in the 1960s to the contents of 21st century emails. A few of the poems are titled with only a date, but not in chronological order, further enhancing the notion of time travel. This conjures a feeling of unknowing,  as the stories span decades of life, including four poems named the same as the book title. In the end, this collection embodies the shadow and light of life itself.” — 2022 Eric Hoffer Award Judges Comments

“In Resurrection Fail, John Wall Barger’s mature talents are on full display. This masterful collection is very evidently the culmination of years of hard work and thought, mingling memory and flights of fancy, harnessed to an original and inimitable imagination. It is indisputably among the best books of poetry to have appeared in recent years. Every page dazzles. This is a book not to be missed.” — Ernest Hilbert, author of Caligulan

“… while there is darkness aplenty in his work, it is always teeming with life. Barger’s recurrent themes include lust, death, mutilation, shame, and suicide, but there is never any hopelessness in his language or approach. Barger is not afraid of the dark, nor is he trying to master it; he is perpetually trying to know it and to bring it alongside him. And as the poetry unfurls through his most recent book, Resurrection Fail, we begin to see that darkness as the poet may see it: a night full of color and depth, always breathing with unmistakable, and at times even joyous, life.” — Cameron MacKenzie, in Plume

“In this book, moths crowd a wall, ‘wings stamped / with antiquated signs,’ transform into a living mosaic. John Wall Barger’s voice alights on kinship, anecdote-rich cities, and love’s intricate geometries. I leaned close to the page, to his voice—I felt like I was part of the conversation. This intimacy is testament to Barger’s deft control of language. His voice is also a mosaic, alive with human music.” — Eduardo C. Corral 

“John Wall Barger’s poems begin easily, in comfort and quotidian intimacy, and end just as easily in surprise and wonder and amazement. In between they take us through all the registers of human imagination. They intermingle the domestic with the cosmic, the local with the global, the ephemeral with the eternal. They are testaments to both the wild metamorphic power of poetic language and its moral capability, clarity, and spiritual strength.” — Vijay Seshadri

“John Wall Barger’s poems win our respect with their hard truths and our love with their compassionate telling of them. With a breathtaking ferocity of feeling, his lyric narratives amble out of memory into surprise—surprise at the horrors we are capable of and at our resilience in enduring them. Following Kierkegaard’s belief that “Life can only be understood backwards,” Barger chases the receding years, the past revealed in a series of wrenching shocks: “Like the anatomy student I once met / who slid the sheet / off a corpse / and there was / his childhood crush.” This is essential poetry, a singular and vital record of the pain and joy that attend on living.” — David Yezzi

“As its title suggests, Resurrection Fail is a worthy paradox, blending John Wall Barger’s enviable economy of style with a luxury of spirit that glimmers beneath both his speaker’s fetching enthusiasms and deep sorrows. These poems capture how the world’s beauty and brutality are bound together; that we fail and–if we’re lucky–find the will to resurrect ourselves over and over again. But for all this poet’s clear seriousness of purpose, there’s a vivid, often witty life force here that reminds me that I’m glad to be alive. I really loved getting to know this book and I bet you will, too.” — Erin Belieu

“These poems are certainly passionate creations. Excellent read!” — Rochak Agarwal, in Pegasus Literary

Praise for The Mean Game

“John Wall Barger’s work has always been lyrical and inventive. His latest, The Mean Game, builds on these strengths, delivering an evocative and challenging book. Perhaps a little less straightforward than his previous publications, the poems in The Mean Game perform more dramatically, more surreally, and more vividly than ever before.” — Jay Miller, Arc Poetry Magazine

The Mean Game is a book that embraces opposites: joy and sadness, humor and violence, animals and humans, myth and matter. Barger’s poetic muse gravitates towards myth. Myths aren’t afraid to tackle the difficult subjects, to use violence and death as teachers. We are under a certain illusion that our happiness—our marriages, our jobs, our friendships—will last forever. Barger’s poems do not harbor that illusion. They disrupt our normal expectation, and do so with exquisite poetic skills.” — Chris Kaiser, Mad Poets Society

“In The Mean Game, poet John Wall Barger is a brilliant improv artist, inhabiting multiple personas and voices and showing off a comic, compassionate inventiveness that reminds me of the great satirical writers Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Jonathan Swift.” — Leslie Timmins, EVENT Poetry Magazine

“As heartbreaking as it is ambitious, “My Houseguest,” to me, is the tour de force of the collection. Not only does it demonstrate the ease with which we can be led into pathologizing perceived difference, it also speaks to the fact that, regardless of how enlightened or welcoming we consider ourselves to be, the history of entitlement we try to deny continues to exert its seemingly inescapable agency on our actions and behaviours … John Wall Barger is one of our most important poets, and The Mean Game, his fourth full-length collection, confirms that he has not only come into his own, but is now writing at the very height of his powers. If this isn’t a great book, I’m going to take up knitting.” — Phillip Crymble, Hamilton Review of Books

“The book is filled with treasures and startlements: “The Stiltwalkers,” whose voices the speaker hears “drowning phonemes, / through the floors”; “The Bureaucrats,” whose surveys we must fill out “even in our dreams”; “Penitentiary,” where the speaker wakes “wearing the ocean,” “wearing a Lao Tzu smile,” “wearing wind for a nose”; “My Houseguest,” where, after a visit from a giraffe, the objects in the room assume “a wild clarity. / As if nobody was there to see them”; “The External Lung,” which “climbed on my lap / like an old cat / & shut her eyes”; “On the Curiously Sinister Hearts of Donkeys,” where a general or some sort of leader, his “swanky uniform cluttered / with medallions,” cuts off a donkey’s head, puts it on, and begins “braying rhetoric to the multitudes”; and many more. What brings them together is not only a unity of story—in some way they all point toward the same thing—but their brilliant horse sense, their way of saying the bare thing as it has never been said before.” — Diana Senechal, Literary Matters

“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), Roanoke Review

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