The Hundred Fathom Curve chronicles the search for an American identity from the Vietnam war to 9/11. The poems, drawn from five previous collections and published over 40 years, include Barr’s eye-witness accounts as a Navy veteran of Vietnam, and as a New Yorker who was present at 9/11. They explore the boundary of what is human with all that is not, and find things never to be as they seem. They follow the journey from nature into art, and the efforts of the artist to discover what it means to be human.
"The Hundred Fathom Curve refers to the mariners’ soundings that mark the descent of the continental shelf. It can also denote the soundings of a man’s life as he leave the comparatively safe shallows of the world he knows to explore the deeper reaches of more challenging unknowns. The most notable of John Barr’s four sections, Articles of War, recalls the poet’s combat experience as a young naval officer off Vietnam. Other soundings encompass his diverse experiences as city-man and countryman, banker and sailor, fisherman, gardener and knowledgeable amateur scientist. It is chiefly as an observer of nature and of the evolving American scene that this collection will appeal to readers who look to poetry for a sustained exploration of experience. Outstanding among these verbal adventures are an opening sequence on 9/11 and, in the final section, ‘The Dial Painters,’ ‘Going into the Wilderness,’ the imaginative ‘Exploring the Pastime Reaches and Beyond’, and a fine concluding poem, ‘Restoration.’"
“John Barr is a poet of elegant saying rather than singing, and his subjects are the familiar guiding stars of our common life: love, its presence or absence; war; the physical world and, especially, as in the quiet but profound requiem ‘The Dial Painters,’ the investigative empathy toward others that keeps us civilized. Still, in these precise and thoughtful meditations, the music of spontaneity and rejoicing – that is of course behind everything – must from time to time break out: ‘I live in a settlement of two hundred bones,’ he writes of himself; or remembers his father, with his ham radios, wanting to ‘travel in the company of life’; or, with delicious humor, imagines the yard wisteria ‘Offspring of wistful and hysteria.’
"These are poems to read more than once; John Barr is excellent company at every visit. He is in fact an extraordinary man, both a poet of passion and the most delicate workmanship, and a man of the material world, especially the world of finance and diplomacy—where, I dare say, passion and delicate workmanship are also necessities. We, who honor literature, also live in the world—and it is to our betterment twice, then, that John Barr’s excitement, exactitude, and caring are so large and devotional—thus he twice renders the world good service, including, in his poems for sure, much pleasure, good thought, and happiness.”
“I take my poetry seriously—which means I don’t have a lot of patience with things that are not poems. These are real poems, with a fine sense of how the words and rhythms can work to produce the kind of pressure, and vivid sense of experience, that they communicate…some of what Henry James called ‘the real thing.’”
—Neil L. Rudenstine, President, Harvard University
"Nothing has a right to the space it occupies" says John Barr in one of his poems, and this tough-minded remark is typical of the skeptical eye his work casts upon the thousand-thinged world. Barr's speaker is wary of what is "arty and not true" and is often in despair to see "what one must do to excell." Nonetheless these poems are full of admiration for creation, and the created--geological schist and Hudson River divers, spiderwebs and hydroelectric dams. The Hundred Fathon Curve is a panoramic suite, meditating on means and ends, interrelationships; nature and history. Lucid, discursive, taut in phrasemaking, lit by memorable images, these poems are lively, probing and finally convey the pleasures of an especially thoughtful and wide-ranging amazement."
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