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Refrigerator tech lends voice to lifeís struggles with poetry

By Kyle Barnett -   Feb 14, 2013

Cover art for Barry North's lateest chapbook
Cover art for Barry North's lateest chapbook "Terminally Human" by Des Allemands resident Corey Granier.

The cover image on Barry Northís recently released second chapbook "Terminally Human" tells a lot about the poems included inside.

It shows a wooden heart split down the middle with just a sliver of wood remaining attaching the two pieces. A screw inserted through the two sides is trying to pull the heart back together.

North said he gave instructions to his artist son-in-law Corey Granier, of Des Allemands, on what kind of image he wanted.

"I just told him I wanted a heart that was definitely not a Valentine heart that was under pressure of coming apart, so thatís what he came up with," he said.

North said a lot of the poems in the volume reflect the heartache of living.

"I think a lot of the poems have a human interest story behind them," he said. "When you live, youíve got people that die, you have relationships that break up. So I thought it was a pretty good little symbol for the book."

The title "Terminally Human" came to North as he was walking on the Mississippi River levee not far from his Hahnville home.

"I was just walking on the levee one day trying to think of the title for this thing and couldnít come up with anything. As I was walking along that title just popped into my head and it seemed perfect," North said. "There are some poems in there about death and the fact that we are all dying, we are all on the road to death."

At 68-years-old North acknowledges he is closer to end of his life than the beginning.

"Two heart attacks and prostate cancer, Iím definitely on the downhill slope," he said.

North said although there are autobiographical elements in his poetry, they are mostly relating to general themes surrounding the big questions in life.

"Whatís it all about? Why are we here? How did we get here? Where are we going?" he said. "We are surrounded by fathomless forces that we can never figure out."

An unlikely candidate for a poet and writer, North retired from the food services division of St. Charles Parish Public Schools where he was a refrigeration technician for 28 years.

"My father always worked with his hands. He was a sign painter and I loved him dearly. He was a wonderful influence in my life and I think in the back of mind I always wanted to do something practical, with my hands, something that had some practical value," he said. "The natural desire to write is just something you canít avoid. It just stays with you. Regardless of what you are doing for a living, if youíve got the desire to write it is still going to be there and you are going to want to do it."

Since he began publishing poetry following his retirement, North has seen a lot of success. He has won an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and his first chapbook "Along the Highway," a short story chapbook, was the winner of the 2010 A.E. Coppard Prize for which he won $1,000 and the publication of the book by White Eagle Coffee Store Press. In addition, one of the poems in "Terminally Human" will soon be featured in the San Diego Reader, an alternative newspaper based in San Diego similar to New Orleansí Gambit.

North said one of his main goals is to make his writing accessible to others.

"I write the books because I hope they touch people. In most of the poetry books that I pick up, I donít understand the poems. So a lot of my mission is to write something that is understandable," North said. "Itís basically my one and only talent. It makes me feel good that I can write poems that the average person can enjoy."

All of the poems in the book were previously published in poetry journals before being compiled into the chapbook and accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press.

North, in addition to his writing, has spoken to local students about writing and publishing, most notably at Harry Hurst Middle School.

"I was surprised at how many kids raised their hands when I asked the classroom how many of them wanted to write," he said.

North said his next step after publicizing his current book is to continue to publish.

"I have a number of poems that have been published by various magazines. I probably have about 40 more that have been published," North said. "There is a good chance I could get another chapbook published and I have enough poems now that I can get a big book published, but in America itís not easy to get a big book of poems published. For obvious reasons–nobody reads it. They all want fiction."

If you would like to read Northís work, "Terminally Human" is currently on sale at Angellieís Hair Salon in Luling and it is available on Amazon.com.

Both of his books are also available to check out at any St. Charles Parish library.

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