PRAISE FOR FIGURING IN THE FIGURE:
“Because design, alone, doesn’t hold weight,/” Ben Berman writes in his remarkable second collection of poems, “we need concrete material—the image/ of a bridge over the sound of water.” In Figuring in the Figure, Berman explores the nature of form in its deepest most complex sense. His luminous details evoke a world of mutable forms and shapes that suggest the fragility of our lives. The book culminates with a moving, realistic yet lyrical sequence of poems about the birth of his daughter. This is a quietly beautiful book that deserves attention and recognition.
—Jeff Friedman, author of Pretenders
Figuring in the Figure is a self-portrait of a man becoming a father. Ben Berman writes inside a modified terza rima that makes a virtue out of clarity and discernment. The influence here of Frost returns us to Frost’s virtues: these poems make points and have a point of view. Like Frost, Berman is unsparing in his introspection. He offers us an ongoing philosophy: when faced with the pain and contradiction of everyday life, “to delay judgment and contemplate . . . incompatible thoughts.”
—Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus
Ben Berman’s nimble terza rima is the perfect vehicle for the poems of Figuring in the Figure. Both expansive and structured, the interwoven stanzas allow him to form and reform probing questions of identity without ever forsaking a deep musicality. We watch the speaker ponder mouse droppings, hit the wall in a marathon, describe the great molasses flood of 1919, diaper a doll in a birthing class, then try to manage his “tiny fascist” of a toddler who wouldn’t stop until “every bookshelf toppled/ like a/ failed coup.” His observations are enriched with various kinds of humor—aphorisms, riddles, word plays, and puns. This book is wise and wonderful.
—Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi, author of Unmentionables
Ben Berman’s fine, clever poems are never merely clever. Their frisky formal play is finally and importantly about the finding of forms that might adequately contain our feelings. As his title, Figuring in the Figure, suggests, Berman is fond of double meanings; indeed, he is in love with all the twists and turns of language, as well as all the structures that display the pleasures of thinking. If invention is his inclination, order is his learned yet sly companion, “a partner,” he writes, “the type/ that coyly invites chaos to dance.”
—Lawrence Raab, author of Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts
Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands (Able Muse Press, 2013), won the Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He is the poetry editor at Solstice Literary Magazine and teaches in the Boston area, where he lives with his wife and daughters.
PRAISE FOR STRANGE BORDERLANDS:
Ben Berman’s wonderful first book, Strange Borderlands, is a masterful study in the power and limits of empathy, of respect for difference in tension with the urgent need for common ground. Beyond his formal and stylistic range, linguistic flexibility, eye for detail, irrepressible wit and powerful feeling, what’s most impressive about this terrific book is Berman’s inclusive generous spirit, the deadly serious imaginative play he exercises in every line of every poem. This is a book to cherish.
These are poems that weigh, consider, and restore some flesh-and-blood meaning to the experience of multiculturalism, a word so overused it is often flattened out to a platitude or piety. But not in this book.
—Fred Marchant (from the “Foreword”)
Ben Berman’s lyric poems set in Zimbabwe dig deep into the casual and the casualty of daily life: the hammer striking the sheep’s head, the sustenance that follows; disciplinary beatings that students, giggly and protesting, could count and count on to fade. Unassuming but wise, compassionate yet wildly, unpredictably funny at times, Berman delivers to us escalating hardships that somehow elevated us toward the sacred; the pathetic harvest and sweetness that comes from the least likely of places. This least likely of places is where Berman thrives, calling on closely observed facts to chronicle the perimeters of tenderness and cruelty. I believe every word in this collection. This is an unforgettable debut by a powerful and humble voice.
Ben Berman’s marvelous first book, Strange Borderlands, chronicles in startling and unforgettable poems his sojourn in Zimbabwe and his immersion in a culture that both embraces and exiles him, attracts and reproaches, changing him forever. Using a variety of poetic approaches—rhymed couplets, prose paragraphs, sonnets, free verse—he gives us a multi-tonal description of landscapes that are as elusive as they are inviting, as unfamiliar to most of us as they are intuitively recognizable. This is a compelling poetry of “strange borderlands where distance and intimacy collide.”
The Tao Te Ching is the most widely traslated book in world literature, after the Bible. Yet the gemlike lucidity of the original has eluded most previous translations, and they have obscured some of its central ideas. Now the Tao Te ching has been rendered into English by the eminent scholar and traslator Stephen Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell's Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is a modern Zen classic, and his translations of Rilke and of the Book of Job have already been called definitive for our time.