Cameron Barnett goes from a Murmur to a roar with new poetry collection | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Cameron Barnett goes from a Murmur to a roar with new poetry collection

click to enlarge Cameron Barnett goes from a Murmur to a roar with new poetry collection
Photo: Joshua Franzos
Cameron Barnett
Cameron Barnett considers himself a shy person. But in his new poetry collection, Murmur (Autumn House Press), Barnett’s voice is urgent and insistent, demanding that readers pay attention.

In the poem "Corners," Barnett writes:
I take their hands to my chest, tap out
a sweet staccato: Do you see me? Shut your eyes.
Do you see me?”

“In that poem, it’s sort of speaking for a speaker trying to be seen for who they are in their full complexity and identity,” Barnett tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “There are ways I do personally relate to it, but I was also trying to write it for a larger persona that might hold a few more identities.”

Barnett will appear on Thu., Feb. 29 at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland as a guest of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Made Local series.

The collection follows his 2017 debut, The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water, which won the Autumn House Press Rising Writer Prize. Barnett, a middle school teacher at Falk Laboratory School in Oakland, also received the 2019 Investing in Professional Artists Grant Program and the 2019 Emerging Artist Awardee for the Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Awards, both from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

In a blurb for Murmur, Deesha Philyaw, the Wilkinsburg-based author of the acclaimed best-selling book The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, writes, “These poems shake up histories, both intimate and political. They stir and disturb the ways we look at love, at race, at our people and ourselves.”

For Barnett, writing poetry is a means to address issues often buried or ignored.

“It’s a space for me to really tackle those things,” he says. “In my personal life, I don’t usually go around and get into these conversations. Or if I find myself in them, I’m usually someone who listens. My whole life I’ve always been a quiet-let-me-listen-and-take-it-in kind of person. Then I process deeply, and it just so happens that I caught onto poetry in high school [at Taylor Allderdice in Squirrel Hill] as my outlet for that stuff I’m taking in.

“And I think maybe sometimes, I don’t know if you want to call it meditative, the quality to the poems that I try to write, they’re focused on holding so many things because I’ve been holding so many things in my head and in my heart for a while.”

He admits that the threads binding the collection together, that of family, identity, and race, are happy accidents and the residue of “chasing a vision and seeing if it leads somewhere." The collection features seven fragments of poems titled "Murmur" that initially were part of a single poem.

“I wrote that piece when I began to think of this as a collection, sort of the story of the speaker,” Barnett says. “The story of the heart murmur from birth, and this sort of ghost of a death threat that follows, and the way that puts it stakes into who are you, what does it mean to be alive, and what does it mean to be of a certain lineage and ancestry. It was a little bit of those things coming together and seeing what fit.”
Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures presents Cameron Barnett. 6 p.m. Thu., Feb 29. Carnegie Library Lecture Hall. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. Free. Registration required.

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