A poem by and a poem for Barry Spacks

by Claire Fanger

For a long time I have been (it is difficult to use a perfected verb here) a correspondent of Barry Spacks, a man I’ve known since I was four. His daughter was my childhood best friend (the only person my own age whose company I preferred to solitude). Jude was like a sister; Barry and Patsy like godparents, a second family.

Much since then has changed, but for the last twenty or thirty years, Barry has remained in touch. More than this he has been a generous and always available reader of my poetry. When I say “available,” I mean instantly available; never (save for the odd techno-glitch) did he fail to answer an email within an hour or so. He turned around swift edits on any poem I sent him, however long, however difficult, also near instantly. He did not present his versions as “better” or “the right way to do it”; he simply said “here is what I would do.” It was a way of showing me what he saw. I did not always do what he suggested, but I always learned from it.

It is hardly possible exaggerate how important was the stream of energy that came from him. When I moved to Houston, he was concerned that I needed to keep the poetry flowing. He said it would be bad for me to stop, and he suggested that we start a game he called “exchange,” which I know he played with others as well. I do not know how many. This was in charity to me, in charity to my gift. He could not possibly have had time for this, but he did it anyway.

The game was played like this: He sent me a poem, and I had to answer it, using the words of the title of the poem in a poem of my own. There was no time limit. I could answer in an hour, a month, or a year. Over the last several years, whatever other demands were on me, I never stopped thinking about my next “assignment” in the game. His title words would go round in my head, “catch” on things, image, ideas, other words; they helped to pull poems out of the air, even when I was too busy to write. Sometimes it took me weeks or even months for an answer to an exchange poem. He always responded within twenty-four hours. His influence changed not just my poetry but everything I wrote, because he reminded me over and over that I had to be — despite all other demands on me — a real poet, which is to say never less than a poet and a poet all the time. By living this way himself, by being “hurricane Barry” and “the Spacktor tractor,” by letting me participate in his Niagaras of energy, he showed me how this was done.

I want to share the last exchange we had in 2013; both poems now seem oddly prognostic; they preserve certain things that are the best of each of us — the things he brought out, the things he offered. The first poem below is mine; the second is by Barry. Words in all caps in the poems are titles of the prior poem to which each is a response. I hope this offering may prompt others with whom he shared this game to write also.



proved impossible

as though the words themselves

would not let me past

like a one way mirror

with the future in it

made visible, & the road there,

but I could not pass


Moving past it was like

watching the effects of water

assembled at wave’s edge

bits of bark & driftwood

duckweed, fallen bluebonnets

a becoming possible

in which the mind slowly

turning inward on itself

suddenly mirrors the present only

there is no mastery of this

the discipline of stopping

the time it takes to happen


A lost word

& two lost objects

in the echo of each loss

the lucent ether

a green thought hesitates

hope becoming globular

glowing faintly

on the light spattered

bayou — too green

& too gold, limned

by the momentary

shapes of leaves

so many little things

find a way of being

taking shape before you

here & gone


in their persistence

bubbles forming

across the water

on the lip of the stone

taking shape, remaining

a little longer

than you might expect

or gathered cormorants

on a telephone wire

imprinted with their weight

each seeking its own form


The still intellect

a cup or container

curling like a snail, a

shell, a shelter round the self

a graceful stirring,

an exit, a shield shining, yet

permeable, an act or action

a memory spilling


verbs from beyond the mind:

to glide, reach, crimp, sew, pour,

dig, recollect or fashion,

to image or desire

one feels them pull

electric spill

spring, spit, or spiral

a yellow wakening

to catch the nothing much

the little nothings in parade

against a wash of blue

the very seeming of

metallic hues the sky

behind these pines that trap the sun

the start of anything, or end

the silvered bayou

wearing sleeves of light

the smell of Houston, part

petroleum & part live oak

in this late winter dusk

not rushing & not waiting

it is sometimes forced upon you


at the last traffic light on the way home



I faced my face in the mirror.

This looks like winter-mind, I said.

Nobody offered to contradict me.

I stood there, quietly waiting.

Ah, I had need of some DIVINATION

to bring on the future. O, mantic Sybil,

what are you doing with those windmills?

Have a care, darlin’, we crumble, we’re human.

And speaking of girls, or even of those

great singing bowls called Women, why

couldn’t Dr. Freud make out “what they wanted”?

Dumkopf Doktor: everything!

Which reminds me that Coco’s best friend was named

Gimme before she changed it to Grant.

Also what’s funny’s her other best friend,

but then, lots of things are funny.

And now comes a pert old gent with a broom,

what is he thinking, out sweeping so early?

We all do the best we can once we spot

the bus of the future barreling in.

The sermon of the trees: (1) stand straight;

(2) branch out; (3) dress in protective crust;

(4) come on sexy with the bees;

(5) specialize in apricots.



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