Falling Into Flowers
by Lynne Barnes
Blue Light Press

"…No matter how far flung this once-close circle has grown,
our roots still touch, entwine, still hold us, help us kiss the sky"

A Georgia girl becomes a New York nurse then relocates to 1960s San Francisco where she lives in a commune for 20 years before leaving and later emerging as a lesbian poet. At face value, it’s an interesting story. Told by the poet herself, in uniquely detailed narrative verses of candid emotion and stark revelation, this comprehensive American life story is an immersive blend of history, womanhood, and examined living.

Lynne Barnes’ stanzas hover between sentence and lyric, landing, like memories do, with a mix of detailed attention and broad reflective sweeps. She swings her pen as if to music, setting a lulling rhythm before stabbing with punchlines that sear and linger. No topic is off limits, though themes recur. Suicide and grief weigh heavily on this work, resting quietly between debilitating flare-ups. Music plays, from Motown to Sinatra, as if Barnes’ life comes with its own time-stamped soundtrack. Cultural events and movements—from the moon landing to gay rights to fighting homelessness and oppression—cycle past like a calendar flipping pages. Literary, art, and cinematic reference likewise get their moments, acting as place markers in Barnes’ memory and stepping stones across the years.

Characters, the kind who populate memory and define experience, come and go like guest stars, receiving odes, references, and the occasional love letter. There are the patients whose struggles punctuate Barnes’ early nursing work. Then come the friends and acquaintances of San Francisco’s counterculture scene, who define the times alongside Barnes. Highlighted too are people as cultural and political symbols, celebrated figures in quests for civil rights and social justice. Even movie stars get their moments, for performances and positions that etched into Barnes’ experience and helped define her view of the world.

Many of these poems are proxies for conversations and communications Barnes had or imagined over the years. That her highs and lows led her so often to communicate through verse reveal Barnes as the truest kind of writer, acting as her own tool for translating life experience into accessible prose. Her candor is startling, as is her ability to capture the essence of feelings and scene. Indeed, distinctive descriptions of place and setting bring depth to Barnes’ story as she depicts each locale with startling, recognizable detail. Famous landmarks, popular haunts, southern styles, and New York ways fill the narrative with elegant observations for every sense.

Perhaps no place emerges as clearly in the collection as the idea of Utopia, which sits in the distance like a destination and a ghost town. Utopia is the world Barnes and her communal family thought they had built in the heyday of their collective. Yet as her foreshadowing reveals and her reflections confirm, their alternate lifestyle was, in her final analysis, unsustainable. Maybe this is Barnes’ ultimate thesis, that life is an ongoing quest for a place that feels like heaven and home. Such a utopia can take many forms in a lifetime, all of which turn out to be temporary. But we keep seeking it, moving in, and ultimately moving on.

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