Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday

I know, I know. Poetry by guys and gals in rock bands. . . . Possibly not such a good idea. (Sorry, Jewel.) But David Berman, best known as the singer and creative force behind The Silver Jews, is different. He published one book of poetry, called Actual Air, to lots of acclaim ten years ago. Seriously, real critical acclaim: even The New Yorker liked him: "David Berman is a young Virginian poet with a sly, intense regard for the past. He comes on like a prankster, restocking the imperial orations of Wallace Stevens and the byzantine monologues of John Ashbery with the pop-cultural bric-a-brac of a new generation: 'I am not a cub scout seduced by Iron Maiden's mirror worlds.' But his words have an easy, eloquent gait; each line needs to be a line. The landscapes are crisply American, and history, especially Southern history, casts a shadow. A poem about Lincoln ends, 'The assassin was in mid-air / when the stagehands wheeled out clouds.'"
I would add to that that Berman is also especially astute when he's looking back on adolescence and childhood. A few stanzas from the stunning long-ish poem "Self-Portrait at 28" should be enough to convince you to hunt this one down.
Self-Portrait at 28
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.

It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.

I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.

My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.

If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.

As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadvertently resist it.

1 comment:

Logan Lamech said...

Lovely I'll have to check it out.

Logan Lamech
www.eloquentbooks.com/LingeringPoets.html