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Prior by James Berger reviewed in the New Haven Review



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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James Berger Reading at Mitchell Branch Library


It's a Spring Poetry Reading, April 29 @ 6:30, at Mitchell Branch Library, 37 Harrison St, New Haven. Come see James Berger read from his book Prior. Together with Susan Holahan and Katie Yates.  This event is co-sponsored by the New Haven Review and the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance.

April 29 @ 6:30

Mitchell Branch Library
37 Harrison St, New Haven, Ct. 

We'll see you there! 

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James Berger Reading at U. of Missouri-Columbia


James Berger will be reading from his new book, Prior at the

MFA program at U. of Missouri-Columbia this Tuesday. Hurray!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Noon:  Reading and discussion. 

4 PM: an academic lecture to the English Dept.

Check out his book, Prior here.

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Prior by James Berger Now Available!


There is an ever-present intensity to James Berger’s Prior through which the reader plummets. Full of complex and particular insight, by turns darkly comic and comically dark, these poems are as unafraid of regret and anger as they are of quick surprise and happiness. Prior testifies to what it means to be ankle deep in a new century, one marked by sound and fury and the astonishment that words still hold us fast to what is yet to come. Berger is a poet for this, our only, right now.

— Richard Deming

With Prior, Jim Berger offers up exuberantly dark and witty meditations on the past, marriage, love, maturity, projects, protecting one’s children, cultural amnesia, violence, kindness, and the impossibility of the present moment. These poems lean into the future and reach back to prior orders of suffering and loss, swinging wildly between disillusion and hope. They give us a sense of the fierceness of being alive, and the sheer gift of being able to reflect on what that means. They remind us, beautifully, of our brevity in this world.

—Joanna Klink

James Berger lives in New Haven CT. 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. He is father to two young daughters and is married to the historian, Jennifer Klein. He is author of After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse (University of Minnesota Press, 1999) and the forthcoming The Disarticulate: Language, Impairment, and the Narratives of Modernity (New York University Press); and is editor of Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life: The Restored Edition (Random House, 2003). You should read all his books, but especially the unwritten ones–of which this book is an inversion.

Book Information:

· Paperback: 120 pages

· Binding: Perfect-Bound

· Publisher: BlazeVOX [books] 

· ISBN: 978-1-60964-131-3


Prior by James Berger Book Preview 

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Extra Pages

Photos on flickr