Reading Daniel Barasa’s The Myra Tree, one can’t help but feel the pangs as he struggles to forge his own distinct poetic voice. Barasa has intense, vibrant feelings about ethics, worship, romantic desire, sacrifice, self-provenance and living responsibly in the world.
Unfortunately, like many starting out in the discipline of poetry, his language capacity doesn’t always match the complexity of his ideas. Many of his similes and metaphors are unique and compelling (God as sculptor of beauty; relationship as moldy bread) but his writing skills have not evolved enough to facilitate them.
“I wish I was” begins with an engaging premise, the narrator wishing he was the sheets on his beloved’s bed, her pillow, her dreams…In the last stanza, Barasa writes: “With you I wish I was, / Protect you I swear, /At bay keep the nightmare, / Voluptuously grope with care, /And fair dreams I’d smear, / I wish I was your wear.” For the sake of rhyming, he cleaves to an awkward, faux rhetorical syntax, instead of more cogent arrangements, such as: “keep the nightmare at bay,” or “grope with voluptuous care.” “I wish I was your wear,” is an interesting idea, but again, the concept he’s going for (the intimacy of clothing and flesh) is lost to a lack of precision.
Barasa’s poetry seems to work best when he keeps his ideas simple and direct. While “Death of a Trinity” ends on an overly didactic note, this story of sexual intensity and the consequences of deception is absorbing and poignant. The last stanza of “Is he mad?” stands out as the collection’s longest passage of sustained clarity.
Barasa is obviously searching for the most effective way to express himself, but too often his ideas about poetic license render his lines clumsy or obtuse. (Why say, “Still shines brighter,” when “Shines brighter still,” has musical advantage?) It’s fine to challenge convention, but the results have to justify the choice.