An Introduction: Barbara Mor

At Yale recently, I gave a reading accompanied by two graduate students. One of them, Edgar Garcia, started his reading by introducing a poet he said that he had discovered in submissions and had since found, met, interviewed and published. Her name was Barbara Mor. She passed away this year, but not before she found an audience and published two books, and not before someone recorded her reading (you’ll find that posted below).

First of all, I love when poets start off a reading by reading other poets and I encourage the practice. Only good things can come of widening the scope of our reading, but also, it makes the reading richer. Garcia’s reading of Mor provided a fantastic shock. None of the coiffed lyricism of our current MFA era, no critical theory, no social positioning, just a kind of human mystical rage, a kind of Alice Notley Allen Ginsberg LSD hybrid poetics. Here’s the excerpt he read:

her cunt was oild metal and her mystery and her voice and
wings rising from swamp forests dripping scales of light from her and the wind was oil and metal footprints
and highways  huge skeletal shadows crawling thru black pitch
toward her name  and the seas are oil
the dazzling rigs of cities of burst oil
her fingernails are steel and oil tides surge backly
at the edges of her hands
her heart is oil sliding open in the dark like a warehouse
where trucks unload their black lines fossils
of endless cities

metalloid is her body turning in slick beds
among shells and repeated eyelids packed in silence
the bending of ferns and gestures of
enormous flight  arm bones dripping with black gravity
oil is her breath fractioned from wreckyards from night pools
diatoms and bolts of insects on fire crushed inside her
the exhalations shine in windows on the beasts necks
twisted in rubble  the roar of oil rising in long elegant throats
erupting in black music  jet heads
inside the flames whining and gnashing glassy foliage
her whispers in steel blades the hisses
of elevators  jewels
of sweat drip from light glide as reptile shadows return
to original oil in the basements of eons  body gears
grind into her liquid stations  spider webs
corpse hands subterranean cables the telephone she uses
to call  you into the last night

black rayon draped over nothing  oil is her throat
and her eyes vinyl apertures the mood
falls into and spins in thin disks thru a dark machinery
small wires of insects suck from electric flowers
and the pistils are oil and green wounds of lawns
oil is her breasts and the childrens
black toys  the fruits of the tress are oil the roots the seeds
radios of singing teeth that scatter them
nets thrown from her kitchen her linoleum thighs her deaths
sliding across retinas  stab wounds
rapes interior mining where oil drips from her screaming
on the livingroom rug on bar stools on groins unzipped
in such exotic theaters

And here’s Garcia from an essay he wrote on Mor for the LARB:

Some know Mor as the co-author of The Great Cosmic Mother, a tome on Goddess worship published in 1987. But her life’s work as a poet taking apart the visceral reality beneath our national mythology appeared in Clayton Eshleman’s Sulfur, the influential literary magazine of the 1980s and 1990s. This was a brutal time for Mor. She was living in poverty, often homeless, on the streets of Tucson and Albuquerque, in total eclipse with an abusive partner, “a pharmacopeia, he was; junkie, street thug, Mexican boxer, pimp prostitute hitman […] a notorious crazy street person.” She saved what she could from the slow fire eating her skin, “sitting in 24/7 BurgerKing with free coffee refills into infinity, air conditioning, writing in notebooks.” Into these notebooks she put the thoughts and words that became the material of her first book of poems in more than thirty years, The Blue Rental, the evisceration recently published by Eric Larsen’s Oliver Arts & Open Press.

This is the poetry of someone outside the safety net of the Academy. Outside poetry communities and social media. Outside the economics of lyricism. It’s a voice direct from the body. And what price? What price? What price motherhood? Poet? Visionary? I’ll leave the last word for her. You can hear Mor reading below.