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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Published April 1, 1998
by Four Way.
Literature & Fiction.