Actual Air

David Berman, Author Open City Books $14 (106p) ISBN 978-1-890447-04-5
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.
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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