Review of Barbaro: Beyond Brokennes

By Lyn Lifshin
Reviewer: Hugh Fox

The amazing thing about this book is the way Lifshin transforms a horse named Barbaro into a human being.

By the time you get through reading the book, you are totally inside her psyche, feeling precisely the way she did about the championship abilities of Barbaro, his personality and his sad death. A lot of the book deals with Barbaro’s racing greatness and power, like “The Sparrows Saw Him: ”The Sparrows Saw Him,/saw his hot heart,/walked under/ Maryland maples./The magolia/leaves moved when he moved, his/glossy mane its own breeze. He/had a love affair/with speed, could/not wait for the gate to open.,”p. 15)

The main thrust here, though, is decline, illness, the tremendous sense of loss Barbaro’s death visits on Lifshin herself: “No one can bear/another horse/in this stall./Stony silence,/cold rising up,/the stall with its/diamond shaped/opening/Let it rest.” (“Barbaro’s Birth Stall Empty,” p. 110).

She so transforms the death of the horse into universal grief that her feelings could just as well be applied to her best friends, family,historical heroes, whoever she is closest to.As with every other subject she touches, Lifshin’s ability to universalize, empathize, dramatize, turns her feelings into ours, and we find yourself totally inside her visions and emotions. The kind of hard-core interrelating that poetry and all the other arts should be all about.