Understan (Mawenzi House, June 2020) is Gavin Barrett’s first collection of poems and spans some 35 years of his poetry.
Understan is a reflective journey through what lies below the surface, crisscrossing continents, interior landscapes and decades, frequently and sometimes impatiently. Despite that span, it is rooted in minute, personal details, using them to unravel love, death and longing on visits to memory and other cities. It abuses belief and superstition equally, like an unhinged man yelling at all the cars passing on a street. At the same time, it stops to pray or praise elders, lovers and children. It contains jihadis, garbage trucks, a hummingbird, brothers, zero. In Understan, the poet is lost but holds the map to everywhere.
Understan is a CBC Books recommendation.
“There’s such joy in these poems, such sensual, vivid, rich detail. These portraits of fragile and tremulous moments are both cinematic and moving… I thought of T. S. Eliot and Leonard Cohen combined.”
“In the black hours of night, great poetry is hard to define. It exists just outside our grasp, outside our understanding of a universe which defies explanation. It touches us gently, almost imperceptibly, constantly reaffirming our common ground. Barrett’s exceptional poetry collection Understan is the very definition of great poetry.”
“With this greater appreciation of reality, we have a greater appreciation of ourselves. We are transformed, liberated, by this fresh perspective… I don’t usually enjoy long poems, but I found myself wishing there had been space for 10,000 of Barrett’s marvelous thoughts.”