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Prior by James Berger reviewed in the New Haven Review

  

Priorities



James Berger’s first book, Prior(BlazeVOX, 2013), is not so much a collection as it is a condensed career. Drawing on decades of poems, Berger compresses his past into a book. We don’t read for a dominant theme but rather to see the different threads revealed. And yet this is also not a “selected,” where the volumes drawn from would be clearly marked. Berger has compiled his poems, we might say, and chosen an arrangement for them. And that’s what we read.

That said, we can isolate different versions of Berger the poet, and different interests over time. The book is divided into four sections, linked by recurring short poems entitled, severally, “Prior to Earth,” “Prior to Air,” “Prior to Water,” but the sections seem to blend the kinds of manner to which Berger is prone. There is the abstract poet, pursuing a more disembodied style, where a sense of language is the key pursuit; there is the family man poet, who reacts to a death, to the birth and growth of his children, who reflects on his sisters, and explores the imaginative dimensions of marriage; there is the discontented commentator on culture and, to use the Onion’s phrase, “our dumb century,” a poet who finds little enough to praise and chafes at his status quo; then there is the more profound poet, who sees that the purpose of poetry, after all, is its ability to contain life and thought, the actual existence and the virtual existence. Poetry may be cloying if it tries to be wisdom literature, and Berger is too ironic toward language to endorse gestures too large, but moments of careful reflection surface due to the poet’s willingness to attend to the implications in a turn of phrase, a new shade of the mind.

Read the whole review here 

Check out more about Prior here

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