Writing & News

Stuart Barnes talks about Like to the Lark

I ask my authors to write a letters to the subscribers of the book packages I offer each year. I thought I should share the letter written by Stuart Barnes at the start of 2023 as Like to the Lark was arriving into the world. I think it gives the sense of the textures contained in this highly inventive book, and the vibrancy Stuart was working out of to make this, his second volume of poetry. He takes many risks wth poetic form, and it is lovely to behold as he discusses in his Notes on Form contained in the finished book.

I am so thrilled to be publishing the second volume of poetry by Stuart Barnes, so enthusiastically awaited by many readers. Here is Stuart’s introduction for Like to the Lark:

Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I started writing this letter a few days after The Cure finished the European leg of its Lost World Tour, during which new songs ‘A Fragile Thing’, ‘Alone’, ‘And Nothing Is Forever’, ‘Endsong’ and ‘I Can Never Say Goodbye’ were debuted. Coincidentally, Like to the Lark begins with an apparition of a doomed world brooding over itself (‘Off-world Ghazal’) and ends with a kvelling globe (‘Transcontinental Truth Ghazal’).

Until recently, I believed Like to the Lark’s worlds of music and sound, form and transformation sparked subsequent to the publication of my first poetry collection, Glasshouses—Photek’s Form & Function was in heavy rotation at home, I was writing exclusively in form—but in reality my fascination with these motifs extends to early childhood. I still often think about the cello’s richness and the charms of cicadas, lunar pareidolia and complete metamorphosis. Like poet Terrance Hayes, ‘I’m interested in challenging the law—within limits. I like bending more than breaking. If I break a poetic form completely, it’s anarchy—you may not know there was a form being challenged. I have to leave some residue of the thing that brought me to where I am.’

I find there’s safety in forms—I couldn’t’ve opened up in free verse about my and others’ experiences of illness, death, rape, remembrance, ecology, love and joy. Many Australian publishers, editors and poets have told me I mustn’t write about rape. These attempts to silence me have, largely, catalysed poems such as ‘Sestina: Rape’, ‘in the dark (wish)’ and ‘The Pardoner’. Thanks to my publisher Terri-ann White, my editor Felicity Plunkett and my readers, including you, for making them welcome.

For some poets, form is a cage. For me, it is a lark—ascending, hovering, parachuting— singing all the while. Form is about letting go, and letting oneself go. ‘It is not about having control,’ suggests poet A. E. Stallings, ‘but giving up control, allowing other forces into the

poem.’ Its capacity for generating new forms is unlimited, and thrilling. The duplex—‘a mutt of a form’, according to its inventor, poet Jericho Brown—contains elements of the ghazal, the sonnet and the blues poem. Writing duplexes encouraged me to make two new forms— the terse-set (‘Sketching Aids’, ‘Dinner with S. M. at Tandoori Den’) and the flashbang (‘Killing Bill or Whatever the Hell His Name Is (“Battle Without Honor or Humanity”’).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact of The Cure’s music and Robert Smith’s lyrics on Like to the Lark. This is alluded to in some poems (‘Moon’s Étude’, ‘Little Gilt’), announced in others (‘Hamlet Without the Prince’, ‘The earth’). Like the atmospheres of The Cure’s records’ worlds, like the atmospheres of our worlds, the atmospheres of my second poetry collection’s worlds oscillate between subway song and plainsong, the last day of summer and delirious night, purple haze and a pink dream.

Thank you for supporting my writing, and Upswell Publishing and Terri-ann White, whose enthusiasm, energy and encouragement propel/led Like to the Lark.


Jericho Brown, ‘Invention’, poetryfoundation.org, March 18, 2019.

Terrance Hayes interviewed by Hilton Als, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 111’, The Paris Review, Issue 241, Fall 2022.

A. E. Stallings interviewed by T. J. Jarrett, ‘Women in Form: A. E. Stallings’, Tupelo Quarterly, July 14, 2014.