Halo

Stephen Berg, Author Sheep Meadow Press $19.95 (57p) ISBN 978-1-878818-79-9
In these two smallish books of prose poems, Berg strains for the visceral transcendence of the saints--prayer-based on the one hand, and Magdalene-like on the other. The short, quasi-religious paragraphs of Halo, often observing or arguing against the dissolution of self amidst the tempests of a greater God, describe a sort of ars poetica: "" it shreds me, no-time which is God God everywhere everything we are, often in great heat I write to a friend say everything that shames batters inspires won't send it burn it on stove papery ash God's words, woke in the dark again clawed the unwalled dark again."" Whether entirely naive or slightly forced, these poems evince a white heat of inspiration that's not quite visionary enough for its powerful tropes--including ""Prayer,"" ""You,"" ""Christ"" and ""Death Again,"" and often lapses into pseudo-profundity: ""That death is what you cannot do that death is what you cannot be that death is not the opposite of nothing."" Porno Diva is more successful, taking as its central theme an imaginary relationship between the speaker and Marcel Duchamp during the time the latter was constructing his final work, Etant Donn s, famously featuring a sprawled, dead, life-sized nude woman hidden within a recessed diorama. (It's housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Berg edits and publishes the American Poetry Review from that city.) As the flashy title suggests, Berg frames the piece as a pretext for a frank, masculine investigation of eroticism and fetishism. But Duchamp's reported speech seems compromised by Berg's fast-paced, run-on sentences (""the idea was touch not art how would you like to eat an apple drink a glass of wine if you didn't have hands anyhow put a bicycle wheel and a stool together "") and sexual imagination: ""...first the door then the wall then her holding the puny lamp of orgasm up there dream of faceless leather...."" The long, sickly titillating section on the mating habits of rhinoceri works better, but when the speaker calls himself an ""apostle of the ordinary,"" one wonders if he should have opted for more sensational content. (Dec.) Forecast: Berg continues to publish prolifically with small presses, and his 1992 new and selected volume with Copper Canyon may soon need updating. The APR connection will keep these two books from falling through the cracks of many poetry collections, and stores that carry The Body Electric, the APR anthology co-edited by Berg, may seek out these titles.
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
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