By Ben Berman
In Strange Borderlands, Ben Berman’s first full-length collection, the fascinating immersion in a new culture is counterbalanced by the uncertainties of fitting in the new and foreign environment. In compelling metrical, free verse and prose poems, Berman provides a vivid narrative of his Peace Corps service in Zimbabwe, the people, the land, and his “struggling with the blurred lines of where things end” when all is done and he’s returned home. This unique collection can go from humorous, to somber to heartbreaking, and is spellbinding from start to finish—a rare achievement.
“This is a must-have book for readers of poetry.”
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
Ben Berman’s wonderful first book, Strange Borderlands, is a masterful study in the power and limits of empathy, of respect for difference in tension with the urgent need for common ground. Beyond his formal and stylistic range, linguistic flexibility, eye for detail, irrepressible wit and powerful feeling, what’s most impressive about this terrific book is Berman’s inclusive generous spirit, the deadly serious imaginative play he exercises in every line of every poem. This is a book to cherish.
— Alan Shapiro
These are poems that weigh, consider, and restore some flesh-and-blood meaning to the experience of multiculturalism, a word so overused it is often flattened out to a platitude or piety. But not in this book.
— Fred Marchant
Ben Berman’s lyric poems set in Zimbabwe dig deep into the casual and the casualty of daily life: the hammer striking the sheep’s head, the sustenance that follows; disciplinary beatings that students, giggly and protesting, could count and count on to fade. Unassuming but wise, compassionate yet wildly, unpredictably funny at times, Berman delivers to us escalating hardships that somehow elevated us toward the sacred; the pathetic harvest and sweetness that comes from the least likely of places. This least likely of places is where Berman thrives, calling on closely observed facts to chronicle the perimeters of tenderness and cruelty. I believe every word in this collection. This is an unforgettable debut by a powerful and humble voice
— Dzvinia Orlowsky
Ben Berman’s marvelous first book, Strange Borderlands, chronicles in startling and unforgettable poems his sojourn in Zimbabwe and his immersion in a culture that both embraces and exiles him, attracts and reproaches, changing him forever. Using a variety of poetic approaches—rhymed couplets, prose paragraphs, sonnets, free verse—he gives us a multi-tonal description of landscapes that are as elusive as they are inviting, as unfamiliar to most of us as they are intuitively recognizable. This is a compelling poetry of “strange borderlands where distance and intimacy collide.”
— Gregory Djanikian
Ben Berman grew up in Maine, served in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe and currently lives in the Boston area with his wife and daughter. He has received the Erika Mumford Prize from the New England Poetry Club and Artist Fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. Strange Borderlands is his first full-length collection.
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