The Nudes of God is a book of poetry, the first by Dr. James Barfoot, a Philosophy professor retired from Auburn University at Montgomery. He is originally from Mobile and currently living in Montgomery. The book explores themes of sexuality, philosophy and religion by juxtaposing imagery from these topics as well as classical mythology and current culture.
Though retired from AUM as a philosophy professor, I can remember that Dr. Barfoot has written poetry for a quite a while. Knowing him both as a professor and from talking to him while we were getting his book ready to go to print, I see his elusive sense of humor all throughout, his tongue-in-cheek wisdom, and his seemingly absolute refusal to take himself too seriously, which can be the mark of a brilliant person. There is no posturing in this man, nor in his book, and both knowing him and reading his book have been a pleasure.
Beginning with the sexual imagery in the cover art and the title, it is obvious that this book is one in which the poetry explores themes and mixes ideas that some people do not intermingle. However, Barfoot does it well and tastefully, nothing offensive, no punches pulled, and nowhere in this book is there anything sacrilegious. With titles like “Walking with my Mississippi Nude”, “Her Anger Partners His Stupidity”, and “Brontosaurus Sex” coupling with lines about Hasidic rabbis, satyrs, naked women, and the coast of Mississippi’s way, it is not difficult to discern that this book is a melting pot of mental pictures, some humorous, some not.
After hearing his reading at the release party for the book, it was evident that he not only writes poetry, he thoroughly enjoys it. The playful images abound. His treatment of sexuality is not one of demeaning or degradation, but a fun thing, a good thing, and something that no one quite understands, most of all, perhaps, men. It is precisely his ability to discuss topics that he obviously takes a liking to and couple them with the idea of an innate lack of human understanding to arrive at a summation of how little we truly know about what we depend on for both physical satisfaction and the procreation of our species.
To simply lay out a poem from this book and tear it apart critically does not do this book justice, nor its author. The poems form a cohesive whole, despite being strong standing alone. Read individually they are good; read together they are much better. The cohesive whole of the book allows a good overview of a poet who is steeped in many subjects and who lives a very real life, an intellectual walking in the world, taking it in and reacting to it.
It was difficult, knowing James Barfoot, to not discuss both him and his book. They are very similar: complex, humorous, and full of knowledge and wisdom. There is ,I must add, a great deal of strong sexual language in the book, so it may not be good reading for young readers. Many of the allusions are to figures from classical mythology, so a knowledge of those subjects would be helpful, but not necessary, in reading the poetry in The Nudes of God. Overall, I can say with all honesty that Nudes is worth reading and it is even more worthwhile to hear Dr. Barfoot read them out loud.