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Christian Barter

Christian Barter was born and raised in Maine. He received a BA in music composition from Bates College in 1990 and an MFA in poetry from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 1997. In 2008, he received a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University.

Barter is the author of Bye-bye Land, winner of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award and forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2017; In Someone Else’s House (BkMk Press, 2013), winner of the 2014 Maine Literary Award for Poetry; and The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press, 2005), which was a finalist for the 2006 Lenore Marshall Prize given by the Academy of American Poets.

The poet Tony Hoagland writes, “What a good poet Christian Barter is, whose poems make you believe—a difficult artistic feat—that poetry is an utterly natural act.  Reading them is like being handed a set of x-rays in the doctor’s office; you look at them, dumbfounded at how familiar these blurry shapes are—‘Oh yes,’ you think, ‘that is my youth, that is my brain, those are my dreams, that is my heart—’”    

In 2016, Barter was named poet laureate of Acadia National Park in Mount Desert, Maine. He lives in Bar Harbor, Maine.


Bibliography

Bye-bye Land (BOA Editions, 2017)
In Someone Else’s House (BkMk Press, 2013)
The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press, 2005)

By This Poet

6

Île des Monts Déserts

It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of most of them is destitute of trees… I named it Île des Monts Déserts. 
—Samuel de Champlain, 1604

 

When Samuel de Champlain sailed into Frenchman’s Bay
and saw this island’s evergreen mountains
blown clean back to ledge along their ridges,
this utterly foreign land,
an island foreign even to its coast—

it’s founded on a piece of Africa,
brought with us in the drift—

I know there were people living here but I’m thinking
of Champlain because he was coming from
a world not all that different from ours now
of crowded, elbowing streets and long-hour shifts,
a landscape cleared and plowed, or paved and built,
the power to change tight-fisted held by a few,
and grinding, messy wars that go on and on,
from which he had returned to make this voyage—

When Champlain sailed in here in one of those
square-rigged ships that can only follow the wind,
the whole crew thirsty, in clothes that must have been
putrid, having stared for months at nothing
but water, sliced at the world’s edge cleanly

and saw this place we still see from the ocean—
huge rock pushed through by a liquid fire
then sledged by mile-deep ice into a thing
of character, and then grown over
by the green that rules this world—

did he believe again, or for the first time,
in the holiness of the earth, the unassailable
authority of Earth, its calm command
beyond whatever temper tantrum Man
throws on its floor, or did he think

he’d simply entered heaven?

This isn’t exactly the question I have in mind.
Perhaps it isn’t a question. 
But I like thinking about Champlain catching sight
of this humped jungle, these long heads lifted
thoughtfully, then sailing closer
until it became a world—

thinking about his era’s view of the earth,
in which, wherever you sail, it just keeps
sending up mountains and lakes and beaches and forests,
how easy and right it must have seemed
to believe in a power far beyond ourselves,
in a kind of benevolent infinity…

I guess I am looking for my own direction
in the world such as it is—
like his, but lacking that one key hope:
that when this land is burned, there will always be another—

my own way to think of Acadia,
this ever-more-precious island we’ve somehow kept
wooded, and rocky, and punctured through with clear lakes—
enough like it was that if you hold
your finger across the houses at its feet
you can still, sailing into Somes Sound,
see more or less the place that Champlain saw

and, also, know the place for the first time—

which is always the feeling of powerful beauty, isn’t it—
that something has been here the whole time
and we are just now seeing it,
and must now reconsider all our theories
that there could be such a place—

or poem, or string quartet, or person?

They come in droves now, a long string tugging them
ever across the land bridge to gaze down
from the steep western cliff of Cadillac
into the open eye of Eagle Lake,

the tree-massed mountains of Penobscot and Sargent
building up beyond it like the land is still gaining power,
their sheer cliff walls like cities left by dreams,

and the ocean laid out flat, its moss-tuft islands’
miniatures of cliffs and beaches calm
as if you had imagined them—

Is it the kind of life you could live
that you see here?  French Jesuits

came next, to bring around the souls
of those already here; they set up camp
at Fernald Point, and I wonder, too, if they saw

where they were, or just the prospect
of some better place—Mount Saint Sauveur,
not yet named, but standing up

god-like behind them, its sheer rock plunging
straight down into water, down through murk
for miles to find its footing.

 

Kicking Russell Out of the Band

When he got there, a ring of us
were leaned on cars outside Terry’s garage—
guys around forty and me, twenty-seven—
when he got there in that little pickup
frail with rust, an aquarium of tools
through the truck cap window. It was
Terry who told him—for once in weeks
no anger in his voice about
the lagging tempo, or, That’s not calypso!
And then there was a silence not unlike
the half-a-sec at the end of a tune, mouthpiece
at my lips, not yet
the clatter of life again and Russell
went blank as a lottery winner—

Russell, who banged at two-by-fours all day
so he could play drums at night, who had been
with them since the first
cow-pasture-fests at Jason’s farm,
me always finding out after,
their names in a myth
of sunshine and hippy girls. “Chris,
did you go along with this?” he asked,
which, I remember, surprised me— 
I was still on the theory of people just
driving away. And when I saw him

at the bank last week, thirteen years later,
and asked him, “Are you playing any music?”
there was a moment in which
we were still standing there at Terry’s garage,
me leaning back on a car like a shy boy playing
cool at a dance, saying, “Yah, I did,”
believing this was a decision
about lagging tempos, thinking
it was actually an option to side with beauty.
And then Russell looked at me and said, “All the time.”
And then I just drove away.

Heisenberg

We interfere with what we know by knowing it.
We interfere with what we do by doing it.
We interfere with what we love by loving it.

I guess you could say we’re the causes of our own loneliness.

We interfere with what we watch by watching it.
We interfere with what we write by writing it.
We interfere with what we think by thinking it.
We interfere with where we go by going there.

We are like Midas, or Medusa.

We interfere with life by living it.

In fact, one definition of perfection is simply
the way things are when we are not around.
Or might have been if I hadn’t said so.

One question, though: is all this actually true?
We interfere with what we ask by asking it.

If there is a God we will
surely ruin him by believing in him.

And yet we must exist, correct?

Don’t answer that!  You
who remain you only by your absence.