Thursday, August 10, 2017

Interview with Poet Ben Berman: A Bard who goes beyond the immediate apparent


Interview with Poet Ben Berman: A Bard who goes beyond the immediate apparent
Interview with Doug Holder

Recently I had the pleasure to interview poet Ben Berman. Berman is a thin, wiry man—who sports an amused smile and doesn't take himself to seriously. He has the look of a curious man. I can picture him closely examining a leaf or an ant with his children for an extended length of time.

 Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands (Able Muse Press, 2012), won the Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second book is Figuring in the Figure, forthcoming from Able Muse Press in 2017. 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 Doug Holder interviewed Berman on his Poet to Poet Writer to Writer TV show on Somerville Community Media TV

Doug Holder: Ben—you defected from Somerville to the environs of Newton, Mass. Why?

Ben Berman: My wife lived in Somerville for 10 years. We dated for four years, and lived together in Somerville. We lived in Teele Square for a while. After we got married and had our daughter we moved to Newton.

DH:Is Somerville a good place to reside for a poet?

BB Somerville is a great place to be a poet. There is such creative energy. The Somerville Arts Council is such a good organization. It is very supportive. The city is very diverse.

DH: In your new collection “Figuring in the Figure” you explore the facade of the immediately apparent. In the suburbs—where you live now-- behind the broad and manicured lawns—lurks the rawness—the unruly entanglements of the world.

BB: I think of this book as a follow up to my other book, “Strange Borderlands.” It is based around my experience with the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe and what it was like being a stranger in a strange land.
“Figuring....” deals with a very different place—the small—local life-- but the rawness exists in this seemingly placid environment.

DH: Some say you have to be a wild—Charles Bukowski- like figure to be a poet—how does domesticity suit you?

BB: In some ways it helps—in terms of giving me some routines and rituals to keep me writing. There are many complexities—entanglements being a father and a husband. Small moments of domestic life are entry ways into broader ideas.

DH: It has been said we detach ourselves to feel more fully. Do you detach yourself when writing?

BB: Writing requires detachment to feel the experience fully and write about it.

DH: How have your children affected your writing? Does their sense of wonder ignite yours?

BB: Entirely. My kids see the world entirely differently. They could spend a hour just looking at an ant. I try to see through my kids eyes. It gets me out of the “routine” of seeing.

DH: Tell me about your involvement with Solstice Literacy Magazine.

BB: It is an online magazine that has been around for 8 or 9 years. Lee Hope started it. It was connected to Pine Manor College. We produced two print anthologies. It is a wonderful journal. On staff we have folks like Regie Gibson, Richard Hoffman, Danielle Georges, and many others.

DH: Why do you write poetry?

BB: It is a centering practice. It is a ritual I need to engage in or I won't feel right. It allows me to slow down and connect with my life. I love to play with language, and find meaning in the world. I get up around 3AM every morning—check the Web, have a cup of coffee, and free write. I go where it directs me.

DH: You teach at Brookline High, in Brookline, MA. It is a help or hindrance?

BB: To teach is very demanding—so it sort of makes me make time for my writing. I am lucky to have bright and creative kids in my classes. I love to introduce kids to reading—and they introduce me to new writers—that can only help.

My friend confides in me how his wife cheated—
well, not cheated, but sent racy photos
of herself to other men—how she created
some online profile with a phony
name—Lady Falcon—and how he stumbled
upon this one day when he used her phone
to order a pizza. They’d been so stable,
he tells me, maybe they needed this breach
to save their marriage from growing stale.
In front of us, a hawk’s perched on a branch,
calmly pecking at a squirrel’s entrails.
We’re sitting side-by-side on the bench
but see different things through the tangled
crosscutting of limbs in front of us. My friend
mentions that he’ll hide some of the details
from his analyst because the man can find
subtext even when they chat about sports—
which makes me feel bad about my own feigned
attention—how my mind spirals and spurts
like a squirrel getting chased up a tree,
then scrambles to piece together the excerpts—
it’s just that I’m tired of the puppetry…
my friend says …some childhood desire…
he adds …while residing on my property—
but what an impotent word—resides
just hearing it makes me long for nude
photos of his wife. On the underside
of the branch, now—directly under
the hawk—is another squirrel, his floppy
tail pointed stiff—this must be duende,
I think—ready to spring at the slightest flap
of a wing. How should I have reacted?
my friend asks, as the squirrel fixes to flip.

 -- Ben Berman

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