Monograph by simeon Berry
The University of Georgia Press, 2015; 106 pp
Reviewed by Carleen Tibbetts
Simeon Berry begins his second book of poetry, Monograph, with a quote reminding the reader that a monograph is “a treatise or detailed study of one relatively narrow topic.” These poems are a graphic documentation of the course of a relationship between the speaker and a woman named N. Berry writes, “I tend to think of masculinity itself as a type of minor catastrophe,” and these poems are very much a catastrophic tale. This collection is the struggle of the speaker’s attempt to carve out both his own identity within his relationship to and his attempt to be “man enough” to be her other half and function cohesively a whole. However, to categorize this collection as poetry is almost a lazy definition. This work is as involved, cerebral, and complex as a collection of short stories. Each stanza is a paragraph and almost its own self-contained narrative within the larger arc of a troubled relationship that the speaker divulges in great, humorous, and often heart-aching detail. The timeline of the relationship is fluid yet disjointed—the narrator jumps in and out of their years together. Berry’s speaker admits to thinking, “Fairly certain we were doomed as a couple” and that he thought this every single night he walked home to N feeling “utterly ecstatic with rage.” In between accounts of N, who is described as a former lesbian, laying around topless with her visiting best friend, or his joining her family for the holidays, or her training herself to masturbate with multiple highlighters, the speaker delves into his own spotted family history. The speaker talks of his spiritually evolved healer father from whom he learned “everyone has an agenda, even when they don’t have a body,” and of his depressed mother who wore the same pair of jeans every day of the first year of his life. The vignettes about N and the course of the relationship are highly sexually charged, explore kink, and different, often failed ways of achieving intimacy and harmony in a partnership. N asks the speaker to tie her to a cold radiator. N ties the speaker to a chair and blindfolds him while reciting Kierkegaard and Hegel. These are not poems for the prudish or frigid reader. The speaker and N go out for “fancy, architectural desserts,” yet they argue passionately about the day-to-days, about New Age philosophy and raising a hypothetical child Catholic. These storied poems are very much about the build up of what one wants and needs from a partner, and then the reality that brings the lofty ideals earthward again. Berry writes, “The tenser things get, the more N wants a kid. But we might have to adopt, because of my bad genes: alcoholism, schizophrenia, depression . . . the whole sick crew.” The speaker hearkens back to his own troubled family history and brings in these details in the moments when things are less-than-smooth with N. When things get increasingly sour, the speaker reflects back to the time just before N came into his life: “The golden afternoon light is elegiac and simple—the last harvest before the endgame starts.” It’s such a gorgeous line and to have it pre-date the endgame that is the relationship that lies looming in the future . . . the reader feels for this speaker, wants the relationship to thrive and succeed. Yet, “There are many endings. Most of them atomic. This is one” Berry writes, and lets us know this is not a smooth ride. These stories are a cosmic, explosive journey through the pleasures and pitfalls of life with N. This is the tale of an idealistic young couple attempting to patch the fissures only to have the the walls of their life together come tumbling down around them.