Strange Borderlands: Poems by Ben Berman
Ben Berman's debut poetry collection is a compelling examination of the author's experiences in Zimbabwe as a Peace Corps volunteer. The book opens with the 10-part "Interruptions," with which the author ably transports readers to a land where the radio plays a mix of rhumba, world news, Dolly Parton, and the Shona language, and "It never ends, never/ connects." Berman's ear for detail allows him to describe Zimbabwe with stunning intimacy, while still acknowledging the distance that accompanies his foreigner status. In "Learning Shona," he explores his understanding of different cultures and himself while learning a new tongue. He "learned to pray and with ass sound/ almost exactly the same. And it wasn't/ just language either, I'd see a man/ suffering gum disease and write home/ about the beautiful toothless smiles." The second half of the book changes perspectives, drawing readers into the author's travels and return to the United States after his overseas service. Reflective in nature, these poems use form—from slant-rhyming couplets to prose poems—to limn the tensions of readjustment, and mine memory for stories that keep the author rooted to a place that will forever and never be his. Throughout the collection, Berman's images sear the brain with their often-perplexing otherness, while his openness to new cultures and peoples help readers understand how beautiful the world's strangeness can be. This is a must-have book for readers of poetry.