John Wall Barger has been my editor for six years and two poetry collections. During that time I have learned a great deal from John about craft.
John has helped me hone my poet’s noticing eye while developing my appreciation of the surreal and commitment to Duende. John has encouraged me to seek more feeling in my poetry while avoiding sentimentality. He has challenged me to find more original metaphors, music and play in my work. Since I have left full-time teaching to concentrate on writing, I have learned even more from him, including how to tame the didactic tendency of a college teacher.
John is a smart and sensitive teacher and editor who guides with questions more often than instructions. He is knowledgeable and regularly suggests readings related to themes which emerge from my poetry. John leaves his ego behind in our consultations. He has always treated me and my poetry with sensitivity, respect and patience.
John’s skillful editing continues to help me expand my range as a poet.
His adventurous writing and worldly perspective as transnational Canadian poet regularly inspire me.
—Kate Rogers, author of Out of Place (Hong Kong/Toronto 2019)
John was recommended to me as a poetry editor because my latest work in progress was quite large and certainly required focus, careful cuts, and re-structuring. He and I had not known of each other’s work prior to this, but once we set up a Zoom meeting, I realized quickly that our collaboration would be fruitful. He was friendly and took on the task very promptly and assiduously, carving out a firm direction for the work, and eliminating tons of poems that didn’t fit the path. What I learned in the course of an intense period of collaboration were how to focus, tighten a poem, and not rely only on figurative language. John showed how a lyric poem can use plain language and still have emotional power and thoughtfulness without having to resort to strained metaphors or generalized abstractions. He showed me how a poem needed a gesture or personalized voice as anchor, and I was delighted with what finally emerged. I would recommend him to any poet who needs a sharp perceptive editor who helps you retain your individual voice while also teaching you more about craft.
—Keith Garebian, author of Against Forgetting (Frontenac House)
I got acquainted with John during my master degree creative writing course where he was my instructor. Many seasons have passed since, but he still has my utmost respect because he utterly transformed the way I look at literature and art.
I enjoy literature as much as the next book fanatic, but it was John who enlightened me to the process of crafting words, and most importantly the concept and essence of all arts – empathy as the greatest love for mankind. That moment of pure epiphany struck like lightning and suddenly all my years of studying literature made perfect sense to me – I was studying the human condition and cultivating my sensitivity and empathy.
Today, I teach literature, and at the start of every semester I always establish the fact that we are not just reading – We are immersing ourselves in the fruit of labor representative of the human condition. That’s why we study literature, that’s what makes the subject worthwhile. Apart from the profound contemplation John distilled in me, he also did a stellar job demystifying the creative writing process. The carefully curated readings of duende, wabi sabi and other concepts brought new dimensions into my comically flat and unoriginal compositions. John also gave very detailed and constructive comments regarding my work-in-progress writings that helped tremendously.
I have nothing but glowing praise for John, and if his infectious passion for his craft doesn’t move you, nothing will. Borrowing from everyone’s favourite bard, “I have seen a medicine That’s able to breathe life into a stone, Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary With spritely fire and motion, whose simple touch Is powerful to araise King Pippen.” – Shakespeare Yes, I admit it. John is the antidote to my writer’s block.
—Monica Lam, former graduate student of Chinese University of Hong Kong
John Wall Barger is an editor who cares about poetry, likes to read poetry, and reads poetry – a combination which is surprisingly rare. His earnest, engaged, readerly eye makes him an excellent editor, because he isn’t disdainful of any mode of writing, and knows that, as they say, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” John would never skin a real cat – he’s a very caring person, and is a delight to work with in addition to being a skilful reader. He meets both the poet and the poem with a real hope of helping both succeed on their own terms; if John were running an animal hospital rather than an editor’s desk, he’d be releasing healthy centipedes, Guinea pigs, pythons, and coyotes back into the forest so they could go do their thing. I can’t recommend him strongly enough.
—Stephanie Yorke, author of Both Boys Climb Trees They Can’t Climb Down.
I have participated in many workshops with John Wall Barger over the years and with many other fine poets in Halifax. I always found John’s contributions full of insight, and coupled with a great concern for creating a better poem. His delivery is enthusiastic, compassionate and full of humour–all three are so much needed in a great workshop, and I and the other poets –I think it is safe to say–enjoyed his interest in poetry, literature, and teaching. He has lived in India and traveled widely and thus brought a fresh and constructive approach to the poems and the workshops I attended.
—Deirdre Dwyer, author of The Blomidon Logs