Being a fan of poor boundaries, I wrote to Coleman Barks the other day: "I was afraid I wouldn't like your poetry. I was afraid you'd be eclipsed by Rumi, ironically, with your own assistance." (To those not in the know, Coleman Barks brought many of us the Rumi that we've come to love). But my fear was unfounded: Coleman Barks stands un-eclipsed (at least in this audience of one). It's a sunny June Saturday in Pittsburgh and writing Amazon reviews on days like this is an existential sin. So, I'll be brief and telegraphic. Here are the words, names and phrases that came to my mind as I inhaled Coleman's 2009-2011 collection: Rumi, Whitman, Herman Hesse, mysticism, sufism, reminiscence, authenticity, raw, immediacy, pacifism, transparence, psychological striptease, restlessness, death, dying, love, "tat tvam asi," etc, etc.
I am sure you have heard of the red shift. Big-bang cosmologists tells us of the run-away universe, of the ever-distancing-away cosmic horizons and of all that wonderful origin-of-all jazz. There is a red shift of sorts in this collection as well: Coleman - with each poem - first blue-shifts up close and personal and just about when you caught a glimpse of his Original Face, he - in age-appropriate and stage-appropriate manner - red-shifts away, fading out into the echoes of reminiscence, leaving you alone with your own un-masked self.
Poetry - as say the Zen masters of old - is a sin. Not a moral sin, but an existential sin. Poetry begins as a celebration of the moment but ends as a funeral of it. Coleman Barks - like Rumi - like Whitman - like Hesse - is a sinner of this kind. A sinner beyond existential redemption: a never-to-recover recovering ecstatic. In short, if you ran out of Rumi, if you are jonesing for the breath of the ineffable, Coleman Barks will tide you over.