Palimpsest Press

Reviewed by SJ Grimes

Telling someone about your dreams is a difficult process that is often met with blank faces and the internal recognition of their surreal and disconnected nature. No matter how clear and lucid the dream feels in the moment, it is through vocalizing and engaging our frontal lobe that we realize how nonsensical our ephemeral nighttime journeys are. Yet, no number of blank stares or disinterested listeners has ever stopped us from talking about them and attempting to recreate those uncanny and sometimes horrifying moments. This is what David Barrick succeeds in doing in his poetry book Nightlight. He uses the poetic form to his advantage to recreate the experience of dreams, taking his readers with him into hazy nighttime forays of the unconscious. Nightlight is Barrick’s debut poetry book but his previously published chapbooks and publications in multiple magazines and journals speak to his understanding of his craft. It also speaks to his love and appreciation for the horror genre as the works within these pages draw on and pay homage to many pillars of the horror community from the mainstream to those on the fringe.

In the five parts of his poetry collection, Barrick plays with the lines between horror and dreams through the use of the uncanny. He expertly draws on the familiar, whether it be references to pop culture figures or the mundane. In “Night Flight”, he creates an ekphrastic poem related to the popular movie poster from 1980’s Inferno which takes the reader from the physical description of “the top half of the skull… bone goggles in mauve” of the poster and combines it with the physical sensations of a body in flight. He draws the movie in with the image of “an aerial, arterial city-view–/ stone roads lit thin as candleflame” (60). Drawing in these two iconic moments, the cult classic Italian horror film, and the common occurrence of sitting through a flight, Barrick creates this hazy mixture of story and reality unique to dreams. When he’s not bringing in outside influences, Barrick creates poetic spaces full of tense atmospheres that lead the reader’s arm hairs to stand on end. “Witness Statement, RR 2”, uses familiarity and repetition to work against each other. For while the ‘bus le[aving] the girl in the gravel lot” is a familiar experience for both reader and speaker (for anyone who has taken the same bus route multiple times a week gets to know their fellow riders), the eeriness comes from the level of detail Barrick provides. “Maybe traffic was backed up or his watch had stopped, but her dad wasn’t by the crops. Rows of corn motionless in the damp air” (17). This injecting of the uncanny into space as liminal as a rural bus stop creates the optimal atmosphere that displaces the reader.

Barrick engages in the mixture of uncanny and liminal throughout the series of poems within the collection titled “Recurrent Dream”. The title itself throws the reader into what is advertised as a familiar situation. Yet the fact that the readers are new to these surreal poems only enhances the discomfort.

It is evident all throughout Nightlight, that David Barrick is as knowledgeable of his readers as he is of his craft. In the pages of this collection, he throws his readers into surreal, uncanny and iconic atmospheres where the reader is not only the view looking in, but is also observed by the poems themselves. This collection is unsettling in the best way as it draws on the quintessential dream experience. A weird, totally nonsensical yet surreal experience that despite everything, makes total and absolute sense to the person experiencing it.

SJ Grimes is a Prairie reader and (occasional) writer currently living in Moose Jaw SK. Working with the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, she is determined to live her life surrounded by books.