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This review is taken from PN Review 231, Volume 43 Number 1, September - October 2016.

Cover of Mexico in My Heart: New & Selected Poems
Evan JonesWillis Barnstone, Mexico in My Heart: New & Selected Poems (Carcanet) £14.99; Adam Day, Model of a City in Civil War (Sarabande Books) $14.95; Linda Gregerson, Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976–2014 (Mariner) $16.95
WILLIS BARNSTONE'S Mexico in My Heart is a well-travelled life in poetry. Sometimes, and especially in its finest moments, it is multiple lives. Or put better in Barnstone’s words: the poet here is ‘an eternity of selves’. He refers in this way to Emily Dickinson (‘Poets Are More than Poets’), but the line – and the poem – equally well speaks to his own identity. Best known as a gifted translator, Barnstone reveals in his poetry that he is a master of masks and personae, rhyming here in George Herbert’s voice, free-versifying there in Robert Desnos’. His greatest gift is his ability to lose his voice within other voices – and what’s most telling is that the voices populating Mexico in My Heart are poets’ who have informed and interacted with him throughout his life. There are reminiscences, elegies, dramatic monologues, and references to figures as diverse as Traherne, Rumi, Bei Dao, and Jack Kerouac. Perhaps the most central guide to Barnstone’s verse is Antonio Machado, the great Spanish poet who died the year Barnstone turned twelve, and whose poetry Barnstone has translated (see the excellent Border of a Dream, published by Copper Canyon in the US). Barnstone’s ‘1939’ unfolds thusly: ‘In 1939 Antonio Machado dies in Collioure, / France. Franco drives democracy out of Spain / and World War II begins. / I take the elevator ride / upstairs to photo pose with Babe Ruth […]’. ‘Don Antonio’ is a kind of starting point for Barnstone, the living writer in the shadow of the old man’s death.


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