Book Review: Observable Acts

Observable ActsObservable Acts: A Collection of Poetry

By Kevin Barger
Review by SaraEve Fermin

     This is a public service announcement to all my future
Come prepared…

I have a great appreciation for poets who hold nothing back in their writing, for poets who say exactly what they mean, who write narratives of their own heart and life.  The opening lines of Kevin Barger’s first collection of poetry do just that—let you know that you are holding not just a story, but a personal storytelling, almost a bloodletting.  In Public Service Announcement, Barger goes on to let readers know he has-

     …looked into the core of your soul
And found a light there
That they wish to make brighter.

Barger, a North Carolina native, has divided this collection into eight Observable Acts, which come together in the final poem of the book.  Each act sets the tone for the following section and covers a wide scope of topics including love, lust, sexuality, race and economics.  Most importantly, it is a study in words, and how we apply them to ourselves and others.

Observable Acts #3 bring us poems of love lost and what we can learn from them.  In Lessons, Barger brings Faith into the practice of love, something that people often forget that is missing but necessary–

This is a poem for those
Who have loved
And lost,
And wished to God they had never loved at all.

It is easy to forget that Barger was once a performance poet, as his writing is so sincere and does not seem to target a specific audience.  Still, there is a cadence that can be recognized here and there, a familiar pattern of words, a rhyme scheme that is not overt but flows throughout some of the poems, a graceful dance.

Love is a lot like religion
It requires faith to grow;
Belief I had plenty of
But faith I never showed.

In Lullaby, Barger states very clearly- ‘I don’t want to write this poem.’  It is the bloodletting that I mentioned earlier.  Some ghosts eat at us, fester and kill from the inside out.  Poetry is a balm for the soul because it so often allows us to create small wounds and let these ghosts out when necessary, allows us to create bonds with others and let them know they are not alone in their experiences and trauma–

I don’t want to write this poem
but I do want to tell this story
For the cathartic numbness to quiet
The pain of the child locked in me
And that child wants to write this poem
To be his lullaby
Not for the applause
Or for the scores
But for a thousand voices in a harmony of understanding
And he will sleep…

…I’ve said all the words.

Still, Barger apologies repeatedly for crimes of love and nature, crimes one cannot be charged for committing—crimes of the heart.  He apologies for a childhood he did not choose, and later, in Dear First Crush, he apologizes for the crime of wanting what one can never have.

I’m sorry for my wide eyed stare
And unwanted finger messing up your hair
But I swallowed my lungs every time you were near
Forcing my voice into
A mold that my misguided 18 year old self thought
Might somehow change you
Into the embodiment of my family

Observable Act #5 speaks to the climate of today’s society, is the most powerful of the micro-poems in the book, both as a writer and a human.

A shot
Destroyed a boy’s life
I cried
And then I wrote
And then I screamed

This micro-poem is followed by the poem Little Brother, a poem dedicated to Lawrence King, who died at age 15, victim of a hate crime for being openly gay.  He was shot to death in his computer lab by a fellow student, only 14 years old.  Barger writes–

We have grown complacent in imagined normalcy
They gave us a cable channel
And we felt equal
In a world where the phrase
That’s so gay
Is thrown around in everyday conversation
To deride that which is inferior
And the word faggot is justified by those
Who claim not to be homophobic
By announcing they just use it as a term for those they don’t
We have failed you

Barger insists on celebrations—celebration of the self, of love and acceptance, of who we are in this world.  He talks about life in North Caroline, a stifling upbringing and a straight-jacketed town where there is only one normal.  Still he proclaims that we are who we are, that we sing high praise to what we are made of and to stop fighting both the self and each other.  How else can we overcome tragedy if we don’t learn to celebrate ourselves and others?

Amen to all the heterosexuals.
Amen to all the homosexuals.
Amen to all bisexuals
Amen to all transsexuals
Amen to all try sexuals
Amen to all people
Of all sexual orientation

For God is all love…

…A philosophy based solely in belief and hatred
Has no right proclaiming who I should love

With Focus, he tells the reader to cast all doubt aside, to understand that lust is not so much an animalistic act but a human one, something that we return to—the touch, the need to connect to others, the way another person can level you with just a look.  Yes, sex can be a drug, but who are we to deny the need for companionship, the need to feel a warm body on the coldest nights?  Barger brings all these questions to light, surfaces the needs that drive us to unnamed faces and beautiful but sometimes devastating acts.

Focus on me now
And I’ll focus on you
Turning attention to the warmth of another body
In order to melt the chill of loneliness
That dragged me from bed
To bar
Then back again

Not all of these poems are a celebration.  There is mourning and loss scattered throughout the collection, a reminder that this is a fully fleshed manuscript, not a one sided conversation about buzz-worthy topics.  In the graceful but haunting Dementia (In Memory of Katherine), Barger uses repetition to echo the loss of memory and relationships one encounters when dealing with persons living with the disease that steals so much–

It’s lunch time now
And she wheels herself down the white halls
To the dining room
Forgetting that we spoke
But she’ll be back at my desk
In a couple of hours
And we’ll do this again

And it’ll be the first time I’ve heard it
Through all of this, Barger wants you to remember that we are all human.  That there is a thread that connects us, from the blood in our veins, the air in our lungs, the love in our hearts and the emotions that drive our every impulse, we are connected in our humanity.  Barger strives to remind us of this, no more so in the poem Fingernails

And in our shared am-ness
We represent a universe
Constantly growing
And trying its best to shine
Light in its own darkness
By creating stars
And planets
And hearts

Observable Acts is an honest and refreshing collection of poetry.  It is a reminder that touch is necessary, that with just a few words, so much can be said, that we are here to do more than just observe.  It is a reminder that the mere act of being present is a celebration.


Book Reviews by SaraEve Fermin:

SaraEve is a performance poet and epilepsy advocate from New Jersey.  A 2015 Best of the Net nominee, she has performed for both local and national events, including the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam and for the Greater Los Angeles Epilepsy Foundation 2015 Care and Cure Benefit to End Epilepsy in Children. The Editor in Chief of Wicked Banshee Press, a Contributing Editor for Words Dance Magazine and Book Reviewer for Swimming With Elephants Publications,  her work can be found or is forthcoming in GERM Magazine, Words Dance Magazine, Drunk in a Midnight Choir and the University of Hell Anthology We Can Make Your Life Better: A Guidebook to Modern Living,, among others. Her first full length book, View From The Top of the Ferris Wheel, will be published be Emphat!c Press in 2016. She believes in the power of foxes and self publishing.  Learn more here: