Shaving

Overview

This isn't a book to read aloud in polite company. But what a refreshment that is, given the overpowering strain of gentility and restraint in American poetry. Useful as decorum may be as a poetic virtue in Moore and Bishop, interesting as some poems are by Frost and Stevens that conceal rather than reveal, such tendencies have become moribund in lesser writers. There has been a justly strong reaction against the Confessional, suicidal poetry of the Sixties. But Berg's work, while deeply autobiographical, is not ...
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Overview

This isn't a book to read aloud in polite company. But what a refreshment that is, given the overpowering strain of gentility and restraint in American poetry. Useful as decorum may be as a poetic virtue in Moore and Bishop, interesting as some poems are by Frost and Stevens that conceal rather than reveal, such tendencies have become moribund in lesser writers. There has been a justly strong reaction against the Confessional, suicidal poetry of the Sixties. But Berg's work, while deeply autobiographical, is not confessional. It is meditative, 'metaphysical': it presents profound psychic knots and tries to untie them or at least show us their shape. There is an amazing variety in this work, of tone, of movement, of narrative, of anecdote, of subject. Shaving is more presentational and objective a la Chekhov than anything by Lowell, Plath or Sexton. The self is certainly a similar amphitheater for Berg, but it isn't inexorably at center-stage; its sympathies and boundaries are wider. And it is this expansiveness precisely what is lacking in Confessional poetry that is so exhilarating. Something absolutely new is being done in this book.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Often a form for those seeking a diversion from the domineering lyric, the prose poem is here vigorously taken up by veteran poet and American Poetry Review editor Berg. Turning away from his recent Versions improvised translations of other poems, and toward the autobiographical, Berg crafts self-investigations that are operatic in scope. In unparagraphed blocks of text that often run for pages, the poet obsesses about his relationships: to friends and former friends, his wife, his parents troubled and to the American poetic tradition. At one point, he muses over a voyeuristic encounter at his parents' bedroom door; in another, the poet traces his ambivalent feelings for a friend who has died of leukemia. In "Lowell: Self-Portrait," he recalls a visit to his then teacher at MacLean hospital where the famous poet is recovering from a breakdown: "it's like seeing myself in another, as another who watches me, a blanked-out unknown self sick with identity... I am not sure who I am or if I'm here, there's nothing inside/outside I can grab to anchor me." Freud, Auden, Cassavetes and Conrad make less intimate appearances elsewhere. As their subject matter suggests, these are poems written by a poet in mid-life, mid-career attempting to survey his position in the world by triangulating it through others. At times, their length, detail and self-absorption are trying. Yet these arias of self-witness, 10 of which were published in New & Selected Poems 1992, are spirited departures for Berg; they deserve our attention and, often, our applause. Oct.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781884800177
  • Publisher: Four Way Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.61 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Founder and co-editor of The American Poetry Review, STEPHAN BERG has written and published numerous books of poetry and translations. He has received Guggenheim, NEA, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller, Dietrich, and Pew Fellowships, as well as Poetry magazine's Frank O'Hara Memorial Prize.
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