Charles Barfield’s Perspectives: A Personal Journey, a mix of prose and poetry, is a book of night thoughts and dark meditations on the many ways in which people fail one another and themselves.
As an African American with an extensive background in social work, drug counseling and foster care supervision, Barfield is particularly well placed to consider the effects of poverty, violence, racism and hopelessness on the most vulnerable members of our society – and to consider the emotional and personal costs of this sort of work on the professional social worker as well.
Much of this is expressed in forceful, straight-forward statements that make-up in sincerity what they sometimes lack in grace and fluidity: “You created the myth that we are shiftless, lazy, smelly, and that we are addicted to welfare and refuse to work…” And, “The ghetto is where children are born, grow up, and die never knowing what’s on the other side.”
Barfield’s musings at their best can take on a surprising complexity. A longer prose piece near the end of the book titled “Lies,” may start with a statement bordering on cliché — “A lie, like most emotions, once created takes on a life of its own” — but it quickly reveals a profounder thought: “To admit to a lie means remembering the truth… If people can be limited in what they think, they can also be limited in what they feel, and if their feelings are arrested, so goes their minds.”
Unfortunately for readers, however, Barfield relies all too often on clichés and vague phrases that portend seriousness but lack power, specificity and vividness. Lines such as “You are a miracle,” or “As stars sparkle like diamonds,” are weary and ineffectual. The reader needs the grit and grain of Barfield’s life and experience brought into his writing in order to see and feel what he is trying to convey. Only then will Barfield’s prose and poetry spark into a truly engaging experience for readers at large.