Cover image for Actual air : poems
Actual air : poems
Berman, David, 1967-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Open City Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
93 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3552.E72497 A7 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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David Berman reinvents the overlooked and seemingly ordinary details of everyday life--from the suitcase of a departing girlfriend to a baseboard electrical outlet. His poems chart a course through his own highly original American dreamscape in language that is fresh, accessible, and remarkably precise. This debut collection has received extraordinary acclaim from readers and reviewers alike and is quickly becoming a cult classic. As Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate said, "These poems are beautiful, strange, intelligent, and funny. . . . It's a book for everyone."

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Frontman for the poetical alternative rock band the Silver Jews, Berman has written a book of poems that, like all poetry by rock lyricists, puts the fans' fantasies of rock's "high art" quotient to the test. Luckily, Berman seems to be one of the better-read rock musicians-cum-poets. Some of his book is Ashbery-influenced ("and there is a new benzodiazepene called Distance... I suppose a broken window is not symbolic/ unless symbolic means broken which I think it sorta does") while some stanzas recall the Americana of Thomas Lux: "And out in the city/ out in the wide readership/ his younger brother was kicking an icebucket/ in the woods behind the Marriot." While such poems can seem as performance-oriented as a Spalding Gray monologue, Berman anticipates the criticism in "Cassette County" which ends with the compound koan "anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship." There and elsewhere, Berman skillfully redeploys indie rock's elliptical, downbeat ethic in verse, proving his surrealist quotidian can be haunting in any medium: "Back when we were interesting/ we had sunsets with play sadness./ bird control units/ and a new substitute for the upstairs." With a gently self-deflationary nostalgia ("No one deserves to be called what's-his-face") taking in lost youth, lost love and the kind of simultaneously gothic and idyllic "Our Town" we never had, Berman's debut is leagues beyond Jewell's A Night Without Armor, announcing the discovery of great American poetic storytelling by a new generation. (July) FYI: Actual Air is the first release of Open City Books, a press that is affiliated with Open City magazine. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Excerpt     Snow Walking through a field with my little brother Seth I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow. For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground. He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer. Then we were on the roof of the lake. The ice looked like a photograph of water. Why he asked. Why did he shoot them. I didn't know where I was going with this. They were on his property, I said. When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room. Today I traded hellos with my neighbor. Our voices hung close in the new acoustics. A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling. We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence. But why were they on his property, he asked.     Classic Water I remember Kitty saying we shared a deep longing for the consolation prize, laughing as we rinsed the stagecoach. I remember the night we camped out         and I heard her whisper "think of me as a place" from her sleeping bag         with the centaur print. I remember being in her father's basement workshop when we picked up an unknown man sobbing over the shortwave radio and the night we got so high we convinced ourselves that the road was a hologram projected by the headlight beams. I remember how she would always get everyone to vote on what we should do next and the time she said "all water is classic water" and shyly turned her face away. At volleyball games her parents sat in the bleachers like ambassadors from Indiana in all their midwestern schmaltz. She was destroyed when they were busted for operating a private judicial system within U.S. borders. Sometimes I'm awakened in the middle of the night by the clatter of a room service cart and I think back on Kitty. Those summer evenings by the government lake, talking about the paradox of multiple Santas or how it felt to have your heart broken. I still get a hollow feeling on Labor Day when the summer ends and I remember how I would always refer to her boyfriends as what's-his-face, which was wrong of me and I'd like to apologize to those guys right now, wherever they are: No one deserves to be called what's-his-rice.     Civics She had been the court stenographer in the little village for two decades when she disappeared into the mountains. I was part of the search party that day. Snow was pending and the bare branches looked like mounted antlers on the canyon walls. I walked with Glenn from White Moon Insurance for hours through columns of shimmering firs and over ponds frozen into opal tables until, arriving at an overlook at dusk, we heard the cracking of a hammer echoing through the burnished valley and saw what looked like the old judge and twelve other men and women pitching camp for the night.     Governors on Sominex It had been four days of no weather as if nature had conceded its genius to the indoors. They'd closed down the Bureau of Sad Endings and my wife sat on the couch and read the paper out loud. The evening edition carried the magic death of a child backlit by a construction site sunrise on its front page. I kept my back to her and fingered the items on the mantle. Souvenirs only reminded you of buying them. * * * The moon hung solid over the boarded-up Hobby Shop. P.K. was in the precinct house, using his one phone call to dedicate a song to Tammy, for she was the light by which he traveled into this and that. And out in the city, out in the wide readership, his younger brother was kicking an ice bucket in the woods behind the Marriott, his younger brother who was missing that part of the brain that allows you to make out with your pillow. Poor kid. It was the light in things that made them last. * * * Tammy called her caseworker from a closed gas station to relay ideas unaligned with the world we loved. The tall grass bent in the wind like tachometer needles and he told her to hang in there, slowly repeating the number of the Job Info Line. She hung up and glared at the Killbuck Sweet Shoppe. The words that had been running through her head, "employees must wash hands before returning to work," kept repeating and the sky looked dead. * * * Hedges formed the long limousine a Tampa sky could die behind. A sailor stood on the wharf with a clipper ship reflected on the skin of the bell pepper he held. He'd had mouthwash at the inn and could still feel the ice blue carbon pinwheels spinning in his mouth. There were no new ways to understand the world, only new days to set our understandings against. Through the lanes came virgins in tennis shoes, their hair shining like videotape, singing us into a kind of sleep we hadn't tried yet. Each page was a new chance to understand the last. And somehow the sea was always there to make you feel stupid.     The Spine of the Snowman     On the moon, an old caretaker in faded clothes is holed up in his pressurized cabin. The fireplace is crackling, casting sparks onto the instrument panel. His eyes are flickering over the earth, looking for Illinois, looking for his hometown, Gnarled Heritage,     until his sight is caught in its chimneys and frosted aerials.     He thinks back on the jeweler's son who skated the pond behind his house, and the local supermarket with aisles that curved off like country roads. Yesterday the robot had been asking him about snowmen. He asked if they had minds. No, the caretaker said, but he'd seen one that had a raccoon burrowed up inside the head. "Most had a carrot nose, some coal, buttons, and twigs for arms, but others were more complex. Once they started to melt, things would rise up from inside the body. Maybe a gourd, which was an organ, or a long knobbed stick, which was the spine of the snowman." The robot shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Copyright © 1999 David Berman. All rights reserved.