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Glasshouses - Stuart Barnes

I’m scared of poetry. Wait, is that a thing? I look it up. It is, it’s called metrophobia. What it brings up though, is less a fear of metre than that scene in Mimic when Mira Sorvino, alone on a subway platform, gets carried away into the tunnel by a giant flying cockroach.

So it’s a thing, ok, but it’s not my thing. I’m just a little intimidated, that’s all. Enough to have shied away from verse all my life. Ok, Shakespeare… Apollinaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine… and Cavafy – but only in small, prescribed doses.

I fear poetry because I don’t understand it. I haven’t learned how to read it. Which is strange: I will often lose myself in a 3-hour piece of experimental or cryptic or contemplative auteur cinema.

In the mail: Glasshouses by Stuart Barnes. The book is work of art. The cover’s texture, the way the ink smells still, the concrete shapes of some poems. I put off reading though, anxious. And then: stop being a coward, break the spine!

To no avail... This one’s like doing the Saturday NYT crossword, in pen, stoned. That one a private joke between friends I’ve never met. This one requires a dictionary. No, it’s too hard.

I know: read them out loud! Listen! Except we’re in lockdown, there’s no place to be alone, I’m self-conscious. In the living room, my boyfriend looks up from his laptop with a smirk. Fine. I sneak upstairs and orate. My dog follows (he’s one curious kelpie) and barks at me, wild-eyed, like he’s suddenly questioning a lifelong allegiance to a species he thought superior. Gah! It’s like those dreams where I try to find a place to have sex and fail repeatedly. What kind of household won’t tolerate poetic declamation?!

I go sit on the front porch, surrounded by wildflowers we planted last autumn. I slow my breathing right down, I get in the Zone. I pretend the pages are Rothkos at the museum. Or Louise Bourgeois spiders. Ok, breathe. “Black cockatoos embroider the sun into us, seam-rip it asunder.” Art isn’t always a cipher that needs breaking. ‘10.15 Saturday Night’ speaks to me fluently. So does ‘Mr Gingerlocks’. Phew! All is not lost. Keep trying. It’s not the first fear you’ve had to tame, not the first artist to teach you fearlessness.


Glasshouses is published by UQP Books. You can find Stuart Barnes on Goodreads or at

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