Barry W. North is a sixty-seven-year-old retired refrigeration mechanic. Since his retirement in 2007, he has won the 2010 A. E. Coppard Prize for Fiction and other awards. His first poetry chapbook, Terminally Human, will be published by Finishing Line Press and is available on their website www.finishinglinepress.com
Amoskeag: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue. In what way does your work deal with identity?
Barry: I think my poem deals with the gap between one’s public identity – those things we say or do, or fail to say or do – and one’s private identity – our internal beliefs and opinions. When those two identities do not coincide, we experience a sense of failure, a loss of what we see as our true self.
Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?
Barry: The main character in the poem, the narrator, realizes, in retrospect, that his failure to speak up in the face of peer pressures was wrong, and because of that I think he, at least, has a chance to grow and become a better person. The other characters in the poem, the fireman, his audience, and the mob in the first stanza are basically stereotypes. We have no real insight into their internal makeups.
Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity.”
Barry: For me the title, “The Truth,” sums up the meaning of identity. The narrator of the poem obviously believes that he is not a racist, but when faced with a blatant, public example of crude prejudice, he refuses to speak up. So, I think it could be argued that his true identity, at least at that moment in time, is that of a coward.
Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer – how did you get here?
Barry: On the one hand I think I am a transcendental writer in that many of my poems seem to ponder unanswerable philosophical or supernatural questions. On the other hand, I see myself as an objective reporter on the human condition, such as it is, good or bad. I guess I would contribute that dichotomy within myself to the fact that my father was all practicality and my mother was all emotion. I think I fall somewhere between those two extremes.
Amoskeag: Where have you come from? What have you gone through?
Barry: I come from a lower middle class background and all of my original family, my mother, my father, and my brother have all passed on. When I think of the sacrifices my mother and father made for my brother and me, I just want to call them back from the grave and throw them the biggest thank-you celebration party on earth. My mother, like most mothers in those days, did not work. My father, a master craftsman in the art of sign painting, often worked two jobs to support us.
And though he was not much of a churchgoer, he was what I would call a humanistic saint, who always put others above himself. And I am ashamed to say that even with an amazing role model like my father it took me forever to realize that the path in life marked I and me is nothing but a dead end.
Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?
Barry: I guess every writer, like a professional football player who wants to win the super bowl, dreams of prestigious awards and prizes. And certainly I am no different. But I try to bring whatever skill I have to the poem at hand in an effort to produce a piece which transcends the personal and brings something of value to the reader.
To view an excerpt of Barry’s poem “The Truth,” click here.