2020 Shelley Memorial Award
Selected by Katie Ford and Graham Foust
Rick Barot’s constancy as a poet of great patience—awaiting the world’s own speaking—makes his writing decidedly rare and rewarding. Over the course of his four books, most recently, The Galleons, Barot has earned a readership who can likely say that they read him because they trust him, believing that with each poem an arrival, or an openness, or a succumbing to true limits will befall them; that, at least, has been the experience of these two judges.
“Reading Plato,” the first poem of Barot’s first book, The Darker Fall, begins with the word “I” and ends with the word “them,” making it a prescient figure for his work thus far, an oeuvre that deftly propels the singular toward the communal, the intimacy of the thinker toward the warmth of the collective, the familial, or the beloved. Each poem is crafted with a miniaturist’s nimble hand—never a hand of force or pressure, but a hand that humbly finds the materials’ hidden alchemy. These materials, too, are often just traces: humanity leaves so many marks upon the world—hearts knifed into bus windows, initials scratched into the plastic partitions in taxis—and Barot wants to read them with us, which means that traces, though often left by strangers, give him hope.
As the title of ‘Ode with Interruptions’ suggests, Barot is a praise poet by way of honest reckoning; The Galleons ends its sweeping reach with this concession:
I used to think that to write poems, to make art,
meant trying to transcend the prosaic elements
of the self, to arrive at some essential plane, where
poems were supposed to succeed. I was wrong.
Not merely an admission of error, these lines are a summons toward the poems we trust Rick Barot has yet to write.