The Magical Words of Jo VonBargen

Writers in my mind are broken down into several groups. Some write words. Some tell stories. Some create images. Jo VonBargen does them all. She writes words that are magic, and her images work their way into your psyche like a desert thorn. With only a few words, a haunting story is told.

Jo VonBargen

As the brilliant poet Oscar Sparrow writes: “Some poets belong to movements. Other poets have academic cred, medals, prizes and professorships. Dead poets have mourners and speak soil enhanced wisdom from the untouchable grave. As yet Jo VonBargen holds none of these positions but she has something very few serious poets achieve. She has fans, most of whom have made the same journey as me – across the long parched desert of minimalism … Her work is rich, incisive, accessible, intellectual and intuitive. I don’t know how she works but you get the feeling that she just does it out of her own spirit as it comes on the day – raw, refined, classically referenced improvised jazz.

I read her book, It Ain’t Shakespeare But Oh How It Glows, and was immediately touched by the power of the thoughts and the passion of the images she puts on a page. In a review, I wrote:  “I read poetry. I don’t read poetry because it sometimes happens to have a certain rhythm and often rhymes. I read the poets who tell me a story. I love a good story, especially when it is told with vivid and unforgettable imagery.

“I have always read James Dickey because I knew James when he was a poet and long before he wrote “Deliverance.” I read Billy Edd Wheeler because we rambled through the mountains of West Virginia together. And I read Carl Sandburg because his words still take me down roads I didn’t know existed.

“And now I read Jo VonBargen. I’m glad I found her. She is as good as any poet who ever sat down with pen in hand and spilled her thoughts on a printed page. Her words are haunting and powerful. Some say they are magical, and I can’t disagree. Take a look at the opening lines of her poem “Sixteen” in her fascinating book, It Ain’t Shakespeare But Oh How it Glows:

A child
I was a child
you were a handsome
uniform, a freaking vice
grip on my heart
you sucked out my whole
past and future
with a bloody kiss.

“Novelists should write that way, but most novelists don’t have the soul or the mastery of words that Jo VonBargen possesses. She doesn’t need characters. She doesn’t need a plot. And yet the stories she tells become part of anyone who reads them. In novels, you see and hear what’s happening, and that’s good. In Jo VonBargen’s poetry, you not only see and hear what’s happening, you feel what is happening. And that is even better. Her poetry has a freaking vice grip on my heart. But her words don’t suck out my whole past and future. They breathe life into it.”

My partner, Stephen Woodfin, read From This Far Time, and he wrote: “It is difficult for me as a journeyman writer of prose fiction to do justice in a review to the exquisite collection of poetry found in Jo VonBargen’s From This Far Time.

“From This Far Time chronicles the human saga from time immemorial to the present and hints at things yet to come. VonBargen’s poetry is reminiscent of the writings of the famous French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin when it speaks of the processes that have brought the human race to this point in its history.

“But, her book is far more than a poetic treatment of evolutionary theory. It is an expose of the human soul, that ephemeral critter capable of such love and cruelty. It is a book about the yearning of the heart for justice and fairness and its ages-long acceptance of so little less.

“Take this section from “The Legend,” a chapter about the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. “This is the story./ The sin of a nation is a/ Moaning of wind/ In bloodrock canyon-/In the neck of a bottle-/ In the heart of a placeless/ Soul. But Earth beats a pulse yet/strong/ And unstuttered,/ The unavenged rage of/ Wetted-down wings snuffed/ To the ether for no / Good reason save covetous/ want. Covetous want!/ I saw blood on the hands/ Of our Fathers and/ Fathers./ They, who passed down/ The Fool’s-Golden rule!/ Something was lost in/ omission, / Translation./ Yet, something was found.”

“This poetry grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. It sweeps nothing under the rug, pulls the skeletons out of the closet, parades them in the polite parlor. It does not shy away from atrocities. “A counterfeit savior, glib of /tongue-/What witness would tell it?/ Baked in ovens,/ Six million!/… Where was an obdurate,/slow/Jehovah/ when those bone-thin/ Corpses piled up/Into one great global/ Putrefaction?”

VonBargen’s writing is full of religious symbolism, but not a white blue-eyed Jesus. For her, the power of such symbols lies in their misuse on the one hand and their other-worldly essence on the other. She does not trivialize Golgotha.

“But I would do Jo VonBargen a great disservice if I left the impression that From This Far Time is a bowl of despair served cold. Rather, the words she has strung together vibrate with a power to transform the reader, to urge her to reach deep within herself and find the best parts of her spirit.
“From This Far Time is a remarkable read, a tower rising out of the plains to guide soul-weary travelers home.”

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  • Oh, my goodness, Caleb! I had no idea you were going to do this! Please accept my humble thanks for the feature, my fine friend! I’m speechless, really. Just when you think no one really wants to read poetry anymore, lightning strikes and the gods of hope and validation send a sweet messenger wielding a mighty pen! You put a smile on this frowny face tonight, for sure! Many thanks again, to you, Oscar and Stephen for your lovely comments about my work. You just lit up my whole universe and put me back in proper orbit!!

  • David Atkinson

    Count me in Caleb I love Jo’s work.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    David: Coming from a fine poet like yourself, I know Jo is honored by your comments.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Jo: It’s time the rest of the world discovered your work and learn what the rest of us have known for a long time. Your poetry is as good as it gets.

  • Christina Carson

    Jo, I still get goose bumps from your poems no matter how many times I read them. Caleb and Oscar are right. You are one of the Real Ones and what a damned fine deal it is for all of us who get to wallow in your work, hoping to keep as much of it on us as possible.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Christina: Not even Jo knows how good she is.

  • Okay, ya’ll. This Texas chick is blushing now. Heartfelt thanks to everyone!

  • Wow, impressive lady! 🙂 I want these books on my shelf… Thanks for sharing Caleb.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Jennifer: You need these books on your shelf. If you ever face writer’s block, and I doubt you ever do, or if you find it difficult to convince yourself to sit down and begin writing some morning, just read a poem or two from Jo VonBarget. She will light the fuse and ignite the creative juices again. It’s the two-minute explosion.

  • How can I not read Jo VonBargen poetry after such an amazing introduction!!!
    Thank you so much once again Caleb for sharing 🙂

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Magda: A Jo VonBargen poem is a great way to begin every day. I begin by wishing I could write that way.

  • Mommy Loves

    Caleb, I have never read a review as moving as the work it reviews. I can’t even add my two-bits, cause you done said it all!

    • Jo writes the way the rest of us hope to write someday. Thanks for your kind comments.

  • Lana L. Higginbotham

    Jo’s poetry reaches to the heart wrenching depths of life and emerges triumphant.

  • Julie Seefeldt

    OMG!! I Love Jo.. She is such a wonderful spirit. She can relate. No matter what it is, what you have gone through, are going through, have been through,have learned from, have not, she tells it all like it is. And there has been several times where she has actually LIFTED me!! She has such an amazing spirit and is not afraid to “tell it like it is” and that’s what I love about her. This woman ROCKS!! I will forever greatfull to her for “picking me up when I was down” many times. Love ya Jo!! 🙂

    • Jo King VonBargen

      Awww, Julie…you’re so sweet, darlin’!! You know I love you, too!! We women go through the same type of stuff all the time!! Because mostly we are good-hearted and….man….those wolves are out there, just waitin’ for us!!

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