Pub Date: May 1, 2003
Not since Plath has poetry so taut and so dangerous graced a first book. Youn’s deft formalism—from spare epigrams to dazzling stereopticons—harbors a Pandora’s box of ills: Fatty Arbuckle propositioning a girl; a junkie threatening us with a tainted hypodermic; Black Death; a child chained in the basement. And deep within the box, hope flutters: ‘I am trying she said//holding out her nailless hands//to prevent the end of the world.’ Within this debut volume, an elegant new voice, dazzling, haunting, immediate.—D.A. Powell
[These poems] are disturbing because of the insidious links they find between seemingly disparate things. Youn’s gaze plays stereoscopically over the field of such cultural artifacts (often lifted from the horror-show of feminine conditioning). The result is sly, deft, spooky, intriguing.—Rae Armantrout
With formal mastery, Monica Youn’s Barter exchanges history for myth, direct speech for epistles, activity for observation. The opulent interior of these poems, often shaped by the responsive couplet, houses an exploding silence that never underestimates its close relation to erasure. I found this incredible collection disconcerting in its spectatorship, and breathtaking in its beauty.—Claudia Rankine
The poems in Barter, Monica Youn’s exciting first collection, negotiate the unstable spaces of spareness and excess, myth and history, the thing and the thing seen, evidence of a truth and the truth itself. Rendered with a dazzling array of structures and allusions, these poems describe—and become—a strange gallery of paintings and portraits. She offers a Polaroid left on a windshield, directions for “Drawing for Absolute Beginners,” the lenses of stereoscopes, “The Scream” stolen from the museum walls. Both an homage to and a warning against nonexistent things, Barter introduces a vibrant new voice and a new way of seeing.
Monica Youn’s “covetous eye” apprehends the world—the possible and improbable—for what it is: an optical illusion.