In David Barber’s third collection of poetry, the past makes its presence felt from first to last. Drawing on a wealth of eclectic sources and crafted in an array of nonce forms, these poems range across vast stretches of cultural and natural history in pursuit of the forsaken, long-gone, and unsung.
Here is the stuff of lost time unearthed from all over: ballyhoo and murder ballad, the lacrimarium and the xylotheque, the Game of Robbers and the Indian Rope Trick, the obsolete o’o, the old-school word hoard, sunshowers and beaters and breaker boys. Here, to mark the twilight of print and type, are gleanings and borrowings from a mixed bag of throwback bound volumes: The Magic Moving Picture Book, Mandeville’s Travels, The Golden Bough, Franklin Arithmetic, The Millennial Laws of the Shakers, A Conjuror’s Confessions.
Here too are guiding spirits whose like will not pass this way again: Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club; Henry Walter Bates in darkest Amazon; George Catlin among the Choctaw; Little Nemo in Slumberland; Yogi Berra in all his oracular glory. Reveling in vernacular lingo of every vintage even while brooding on dark ages without end, Secret History chronicles a world of long shadows and distant echoes that bears more than a passing resemblance to our own.