The Blues of Heaven, by Barbara Ras, radiates with immense tenderness—here are poems of vivid painterly wonderment, perfect pacing and weight, elegantly woven counterpoints of shimmering imagery. How does she do this? A book of infinite love and depth.
In The Blues of Heaven, Barbara Ras delivers her characteristic subjects with new daring that both rattles and beguiles. Here are poems of grief over her brother’s death; doors to an idiosyncratic working-class childhood among Polish immigrants; laments for nature and politics out of kilter. Ras portrays the climate crisis, guns out of control, the reckless injustice and ignorance of the United States government. At the same time, her poems nimbly focus on particulars—these facts, these consequences—bringing the wreckage of unfathomable harm home with immediacy and integrity. Though her subjects may be dire, Ras also weaves her wise humor throughout, moving deftly from sardonic to whimsical to create an expansive, ardent, and memorable book.
To dig for quahogs, to feel their edges like smiles and pull against their suck to toss them in a bucket. To feel the wind as a friend, to feel its current as luck. To ignore Capricorn and Cancer presuming to slice the globe. To know the lie in “names can never hurt you.” To be a gull breezing the blue, eating nothing but clouds. To measure your ties to the past by the strength of cobwebs. To haunt the widow’s walk, its twelve narrow windows each the size of a child’s coffin. To watch the harbor where the Acushnet runs into Buzzards Bay before it was named a Superfund site full of PCBs. To wonder if that water you swam summer after aimless summer could get you the way something got your brother, too fast, too soon. To bury or burn the whole family you were born to and talk to them only through the smoke of letters you torch at their graves. To see a snake with a ladybug on its back and still refuse to pray.
The color blue (cobalt, baby, wan, damn, recklessly blue) in Barbara Ras’s latest collection, The Blues of Heaven, is so exquisitely employed, it's hard not to gush. Her poetry remains as capacious, as endlessly curious as ever. By turns elegiac, nostalgic, and outraged, Ras gives us the world—‘a blue ball spinning at a 1000 mph’—in all its glorious imperfection.
The sweet and dark weight of being has never been more capably measured than in The Blues of Heaven. In poems about personal and national griefs, about the world at hand and the world that must be journeyed to, and about the creatures of creation and the tender, creatural self, Barbara Ras engages in acts of vision, ecstasy, and conscience. As the speaker in one poem declares, “I will work in fields of fire.” And true, in the midst of a period in our human history that has been nearly unendurable, Ras has given us a book of extraordinary shining.
Barbara Ras is the author of the poetry collections Bite Every Sorrow (winner of the Walt Whitman Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award), One Hidden Stuff,and The Last Skin. She has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Tin House, Granta,and Orion, as well as in other magazines and anthologies. Ras has taught in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and at workshops nationally and internationally. She lives in San Antonio and is the founding director emerita of Trinity University Press.