EILEEN TABIOS Engages
PRIOR by James Berger
(BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, N.Y., 2013)
I much like the poems in James Berger’s PRIOR. But it’s perhaps his bio—for making Moi laugh and revealing a clue, perhaps, to the poems—that encouraged me to write a review. That is, his bio shares that he lives in New Haven, CT and
“He is a Senior Lecturer at Yale—where he does not lecture. He teaches seminars on how language in the proper solution, dissolves, or else reincorporates into unrecognizable, engulfing signals disguised as pieces of the world. He also plays euphonium and valve trombone; the slide locks his brain….”
What I like about Berger’s poems is precisely how “language in the proper solution, dissolves, or else reincorporates into unrecognizable, engulfing signals disguised as pieces of the world.” Trapped in that type of poetry’s beloved but no doubt insistent clutch, no wonder Berger needs a slide to lock his brain.
Here are some samples which I judiciously chose by opening the book at random:
The Only Thing
The only thing open is wild
experiment, the only thing
left is to abandon
feet, skid on the knees,
unburden, chop open.
The tree will walk up the street—its roots propel it—
the boat’s rudder will guide it
up the mountain,
houses will open their roofs.
The only thing
is to exceed the limit.
The only thing left is to tie
down the identity, strip it away
and violate it.
Sit in a burning chair,
reach, as in a dying airplaine
for a single word—
my new name—
spinning and destabilizing like a crack in the earth.
A drunken walk.
A caterpillar’s sensitive blindness.
I threw a banana once—
I was furious, I forget what you said,
just how you said it, the sort of thing
you’d say, and I had to throw
something, just something soft
that wouldn’t break anything and there
was a banana, only thing was
it splattered all over the wall and doorway
and for months little bits of dried
banana mush would turn up
in crevices all over the room.
You thought I had this violent temper
and was trying to hurt you,
and I said, shit, I throw things to miss you,
don’t you think I can throw accurately
enough to hit you if I wanted to?
The poet practices what he teaches. What else might one want from a poet-scholar, indeed? I highly recommend PRIOR … but not after a heartily full meal as the experience can unexpectedly slip into a wormhole or two …
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue. She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics. Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.