Ampersand Revisited by Simeon Berry
Fence Books, 2015; 70 pp
Reviewed by Carleen Tibbetts
In his first full-length collection, Ampersand Revisited, Simeon Berry tells us, “When the people I love enter the ampersand, they are changed. Like music.” Berry’s poems are narratives that are not beholden to time or sequence. These loves are the “harmonic line” of the ampersand—tales from the speaker’s formative childhood and teen years as he struggles with his parents’ divorce and the impact his father’s absence has on shaping his identity. The stories are mostly told in multiple paragraphs arranged in little cross-like formations on the page. Several sections, mostly those detailing occurrences in the speaker’s teen years, are broken into longer and more lyrical lines. Berry also forsakes “and” and uses the ampersand throughout the text. Berry’s narrator struggles with his father’s absence and his father’s former profession as a clairvoyant healer and former occultist shapes his early years as a child very much interested in the dark and otherworldly. The father tells his son, “Spend too much time outside the body & you become like a paragraph, transitory & fictional.” No matter how anchored Berry’s speaker appears on the page, he is often talking about the landscapes in his head. His fears, his panic, his preoccupation with New Age philosophy and the occult. Berry’s speaker tells us that things can go wrong in both the physical and immaterial worlds, “However, the ineffable disappointments tend to be more profound and enduring.” The narrator becomes increasingly obsessed with spirits and astral projections after conveying experiences his father had before leaving almost all his “psychic espionage” behind. He writes, “Every night you lie in bed & deliberately think your way outside the pale, aggregate universe.” As the narrator grows older, underlying fear comes into play. As a teenager, the speaker talks of his insomnia and panic attacks. While suffering from insomnia the speaker imparts that, “You sense that someone—a person with no face—is waiting off-stage, ready to replace you.” While these poems are an odyssey of sorts, they do mirror this eerie aesthetic. Yet it is a future unseen version of the speaker that does the replacing. The narrator’s many selves—from the young boy missing his father and pining for his brother’s girlfriend to the college student experimenting with acid—all take turns playing the contemplative, fragile, underdog hero in these poems. Berry asserts, “Only the dead can drink what they want from the slipstream of a sentence,” and like the spirit guides mentioned in his poems, Berry allows the reader to drink in abundance from his epic and psychically charged bildungsroman memoir.