Written in narrow sections that blur the distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry, between memoir and meditation, Monograph veers from the elliptical to the explosive as it dissects the Gordian knot of a marriage’s intellectual, sexual, and domestic lives. Invoking Raymond Chandler, Pythagoras, Joan Didion, and Virginia Woolf as presiding spirits, Simeon Berry curates the negative space of each wry tableau, destabilizing the high seriousness of every lyric aside and slipping quantum uncertainty into the stark lineaments of loss.
After inhaling Simeon Berry’s latest collection (and his second National Poetry Series win!), I admit I am a total sucker for the monograph (a detailed study of one relatively narrow topic
), and Berry’s monographic treatment of his particular topic—which I absolutely will not give away here—in particular. If you enjoyed Maggie Nelson’s Bluets
and Eula Biss’s The Balloonists
, you will love Berry’s Monograph
: obsessive, prismed, wise, shameless—a whole treatise of desire formatted into tiny succulent prose poems or lyrical fictions or bites or bits or installments or glances or confessions: a collage of lovely and disturbing threads. I simply could not put it down.
—Maureen Seaton, author of Fibonacci Batman: New and Selected Poems (1991–2011)
Simeon Berry has found a new and compelling way of doing what presents, rather slyly, as autobiography. By turns acerbic, self-mocking, and gently witty, this book is made of lucid, startling sequences of squibs, or tabs, of narrative fragment about sex, love, family, books, and writing. Mostly what I wanted to do in this blurb was quote my favorite bits—look at this, look at this—
but there are too many of them. Smart detail, sudden skids, Big Questions, casual idiomatic precision: Monograph
has all of these, but I think it’s the quality of Berry’s attention that is most arresting of all. A book of wit and heart.
—Daisy Fried, author of My Brother is Getting Arrested Again
is one poet's primary research on all things love--the erotic, the domestic, love's glory, and its accompanying rage. Simeon Berry's voice is irresistibly authentic, even at its most crafty. . . . 'There are things I've done to make the story better . . . the girl with the skull-and-crossbones hearing aid. . . .' This poet writes what everyone else (or, at least, many of us) are thinking regarding the morality of memoir. 'All these things are open secrets. She wants you to feel like you're handing over the nuclear launch codes or something.' Smart and also wise, Berry's poems are stripped bare of ornamentation and read like columns of pure light.
Do you enjoy the idea of New England fishermen who cannot swim? I do very much. 'These are the people I come from,' Simeon Berry writes early on, and proceeds to show us a man whose intelligence is the raft he clings to as his relationship falls apart. I like this too – 'my brain is my business' – because it’s so simply and oddly true: whatever a poet writes about, the real subject is the poet’s mind. And I'm surprised and entertained by the mind that shows up on these pages. There’s a quality of invention here I love, the feeling of wonderful traffic between what’s real and what’s made up, from a poet who understands that the self is, in large part, a mythology we create. This is a fun, weird, and quietly harrowing book. I hope one of many to come.
By turns hardcore and hilarious, reading Monograph
is like experiencing the minutiae and mythology of a long-term relationship through the slits of a zoetrope: the inside jokes, the ghosts, the tics and tantrums that make us fall in and out of love. A sly treatise on gender relationships and literary disclosure, this book will slap you, pet you, tell you it’s sorry, it will never do it again, but it will. I never wanted it to stop.
Berry has the gift of making us feel his thoughts and they are compellingly tart with a margin of sweetness. He’s the crafter of exquisitely brief messages creating relationships and situations seen through portals.
—Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books
Berry’s are definitely not ‘clunky avant-garde poems,’ and his work must be praised for its readability, its accessibility, the enjoyability of traversing this collection. The speaker’s tone welcomes readers, inviting them in for tea, biscuits and some minor reflections on catastrophe. The narrow margins set on the prose strophes make them a visual delight, and the eye gobbles them. But these poems are not merely pleasurable on the surface. Though they never hold the reader at a distance via their intellect, they are quite smart poems, filled with philosophical and religious debates, and peppered with allusions ranging from Raymond Chandler to Joan Didion to Leonard Cohen.
—Jake Bauer, The Literary Review
is a testament to the fine line between poetry and prose. If we are afraid of sinking into everyday speech, Berry tells us that the sinking is okay. He demonstrates poetic attention to everyday life. Berry’s poetry is teaching us that how we pay attention to life can make our observations poetry. . . . His method is no accident; his poems produce a record of love that revels in the life of the imagination necessary to it.
—Hannah Rogers, Los Angeles Review of Books