Friday, January 17, 2014
All Time Acceptable Spring Berman
Grolier Poetry Press 2012
Review by Myles Gordon
The Grolier Poetry Book Shop provides the region with something few metropolitan areas have: a must visit, must peruse spot for anyone who takes their literature seriously. Since taking reins of the store, owner Ifeanyi Menkiti has added a new layer of relevance to the dusty box of a place: The Grolier Discovery Award, a publishing venture that brings deserving, unknown voices to the forefront. One of those voices is Spring Berman who won the prize with her quirky, witty collection, All Time Acceptable.
Berman, Menkiti points out in the book’s forward, is that most rare breed: a poet who is also a scientist – and not just any scientist. No weekend dabbler with a chemistry set, she. Berman is an academic roboticist – whatever that is - at Arizona State University. She holds a B.S.E. in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering from Princeton, a Ph.D. from UPenn, and has done post-doctoral work at Harvard. Her CV shows she’s penned articles called A Reachability Algorithm for Multi-Affine Systems with Applications to Biological Systems, and Navigation-Based Optimization of Stochastic Strategies for Allocating a Robot Swarm Among Multiple Sites. Writing poetry may not be rocket science, but Berman is a rocket scientist who writes poetry, delightfully weaving scientific concepts and lingo into her musings on life, love, the universe, and everything.
In “Psychic, Physicist,” a poem focused in part on a mismatched relationship between science and superstition, she writes:
…I have meager appetite
for the rare convulsions of light spied in glass
or patterned cards, as though days are die-cast
well before the flare of groping palm reveals
their dreaded contours; or hoarsening, rudely
tugging barb from quill, I would have denied
that the limping of the spheres applied to him,
he whose mathematics strung a canopy
of tempting universes.
Her credentials show here. Her subtle use of mathematical and scientific allusions impress, as well as entertain, the reader.
Her poem with the delicious title “The professor emeritus of mathematics, leaning into the slow wheel of dawn until the sparrows stop,” leads the reader into musings of the eternal, again, through mathematical theory:
As for departure, I never fought it,
but rather named it, let it seize and spare
my exponentials and my oscillations,
watching from the chair. After such years,
it might not be too terrible to see
the undisputed flatness of this world
from the top of the
Impressive, too, the mathematics of her rhymes: “spare,” “chair,” “years” and “sphere” surrounding the lovely cadence of “exponentials” and oscillations.” There is no glossary – but to be fair it would add another twenty pages to the volume – but it does help to keep Google handy. Even if, like this reviewer, the reader doesn’t know the meaning of “Riemann sphere,” one can guess it’s something big and dynamic, something that leads to resolution, perhaps a mystical one, adding a lovely intrigue to the ending.
Certainly the Harvard/Princeton/advanced science vocabulary propels the book and can sometimes intimidate with its million dollar words. But this is a deep, brave collection that intimately portrays a strong woman’s maneuvering of this world. “The Offering” takes on female objectification, empowering women to take the reins of potential sensual encounters:
I am withdrawing, sir, but I have had
a fertile, frank discussion with my breasts
and they concede to see you, sir, today
and Friday, at the hours that suit you best.
In a moving sonnet, “Adults $5. Children Under 12 Free,” she reminds humanity to humble itself, and points out an essential human folly: we think we know so much, when we are in reality just beginning to grasp the shadows:
For being first, we boast the truest speech,
as no one can deny the truest voice
to infants, wrenched from undreamt dreaming, each
permitted daylight by another’s choice;
What tribes will thank themselves to see the sun?
Which lands will they create, and which consume?
These distant clans unlearn their only tongue
and from our graves construct a second moon –
Berman’s construct is wise, intelligent, well rendered and witty. It is a powerful book.