Book Review — Monograph


Monograph by Simeon Berry was chosen as a winner The National Poetry Series 2014 Open Competition. Berry has been an Associate Editor for Ploughshares and received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. His first book, Ampersand Revisited, won the 2013 National Poetry Series.

The first question one would ask when starting this collection is “Is this really poetry?” Berry makes it clear in his work he prefers poetry over prose. He notes that it took Raymond Chandler years before he could write a character gracefully leaving a room. In verse Berry says:

This is why I don’t write Prose.
I hate Choreography. Just fill up the
bong with Delphic smoke, please, and
I’ll find a way to get out of the stanza.
See? Like that.

Berry does not title his work, but rather puts them in labeled sections that have something to do with at least one of the poems. Some of the work is informative, like the meaning of human from ancient Hebrew. Sometimes the topic is the writer almost dying as an infant, but mostly the poems center on “N” Berry’s girlfriend, and former lesbian. He describes their friends and family too. Some of this may seem a bit mundane, but there are brilliant bits interlaced through the collection:

Fog ate the tops of the buildings and made the
park smell like an iron works.

The writing has a particular quality that draws the reader into Berry’s life. I am sure many readers think they have led fairly exciting lives. I think we all do to some extent. Try this experiment. Sit down and write a short story length work on one of you most exciting life events. No matter how fond we are of memories, they never seem to work their way into exciting written stories. Berry takes a rather routine life and interjects bits and pieces of uncommon information turning his writing into something that is difficult to put down and occupies your complete attention.

Opening Monograph is like cracking open a common grey stone and finding that it is marbled with brilliant crystals, not a solid core of crystals, but patterns interlaced throughout the rock’s structure like stars in the sky. Berry takes life and unstructured poetry and creates a radiance that shines through the cracks of ordinary.

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