Public Readings


James Berger’s first book, Prior (BlazeVOX, 2013), is not so much a collection as it is a condensed career. Drawing on decades of poems, Berger compresses his past into a book. We don’t read for a dominant theme but rather to see the different threads revealed. And yet this is also not a “selected,” where the volumes drawn from would be clearly marked. Berger has compiled his poems, we might say, and chosen an arrangement for them. And that’s what we read. That said, we can isolate different versions of Berger the poet, and different interests over time. The book is divided into four sections, linked by recurring short poems entitled, severally, “Prior to Earth,” “Prior to Air,” “Prior to Water,” but the sections seem to blend the kinds of manner to which Berger is prone. There is the abstract poet, pursuing a more disembodied style, where a sense of language is the key pursuit; there is the family man poet, who reacts to a death, to the birth and growth of his children, who reflects on his sisters, and explores the imaginative dimensions of marriage; there is the discontented commentator on culture and, to use the Onion’s phrase, “our dumb century,” a poet who finds little enough to praise and chafes at his status quo; then there is the more profound poet, who sees that the purpose of poetry, after all, is its ability to contain life and thought, the actual existence and the virtual existence. Poetry may be cloying if it tries to be wisdom literature, and Berger is too ironic toward language to endorse gestures too large, but moments of careful reflection surface due to the poet’s willingness to attend to the implications in a turn of phrase, a new shade of the mind.

In the first section, “In the Shape of Breathing,” the dominant mood is the poet’s discontentment with himself and his world. “He asks his father, ‘Am I Oedipal?’” Almost a joke, the question is answered, “Of course not, no one will harm you.” Which, of course, is a tremendous lie. The harm of attachment is interrogated again and again, as the poet tries on alternative lives (“There is always some slim girl”), which seem to include becoming a nature poet, and is haunted by “My sister and her beautiful serious face,” and reflects on, more than anything, the attitude one should wear toward a life that inevitably disappoints.

The section opens with a 10-part poem called “In the Shape of Breathing” (“What have I lost— / the whole fucking deal that’s what—“) that sets a tone anxious and defeated. Toward the end of the first section, “A Place to Start” alerts us to all the things the speaker doesn’t have to do or be: “live forever or be happy”; “I don’t have to be good in bed”; “I don’t have to exude anything.” The idea that “Life might have turned out differently” produces, we might say, mature reflection upon the poet’s task: “seeing it through / all the way / as it is.” Insisting “the imagination has no right / to metamorphosis,” we can see that, “Oedipal” or not, the poet is in a struggle with those who would use poetry as wish fulfillment, or as means to avoid or obscure “the deep, daily commitment to this life’s / limits and needs.”

Section II, “New Resolutions of Memory,” seems to kick back at the notion of a poetry adequate to life as it is lived. The title poem of the section plays with recurring phrases, detached from their referents, seemingly, but still able to be turned to account: “I’ve always found occasional schools / of children living in ruins, / hiding from vehicles. / Everything I’ve loved / will take you away from us.” The entire section is given over to a different sense of poetic possibility—“Word-photons,” “The only thing open is wild / experiment.” And yet a phrase on the first page of the section—“My heart accepts its pitch”—keeps open the sense that discourse on form and on the daily encounters with the assaults of our time (“The Children of Terror”) cannot distract, ultimately, from poetry as operations upon the self: “Tacit” considers as inadequate a theory of writing that has left out of account, till now, the human dimension of a family affliction, and “Epithalamium: The Contraption” has the courage to imagine marriage as a kind of surrealist machine, using all it comes upon in untold and unpredictable ways: “A million parts churn and fidget, we have no idea what’s going on.” Here, the anxious and defeated tone gives way to something more definite, grasped, perhaps, in the final line of “New Resolutions”: “Later, mature, you will enter one.”

Part III, suitably enough, is called “The Enclosure”, and we might say that here we find Berger restlessly at home in his house of poetry, bending his attention on the ways in which the world can still fuck up our best intentions, and having fun at its expense: “There may be a Malthusian problem. / There may be a problem of vaguely defined invasiveness, / It could mean zombies.” “Civilization Credits” even smacks of the truly satiric toward our age of scarcity (for the many) and ludicrous abundance (for the few): “Eternal dominance is the price of comfort. / Amnesia is the prerequisite.”

The main poem of this section is not the title piece, but a 17-part poem called “The Fragilist.” This figure—in some respects an alter-ego—confronts the task of concocting poisons, of registering Jewishness in the figure of Mosiach, of rebounding from imaginative recreations of pregnancy and of making pregnant, of parental injunctions and moments of instruction, of becoming an object: “poured to a shape, / unable to blink; / the same baked function.” Other poems investigate, again, roads not taken (“I could have turned a hundred times”), the burden of family (“I See Where it Leads”), and the “vaguely defined invasiveness” that demands a poetics, a project. Berger hits upon, in place of poetry workshops, the poem makeover TV show, and pronounces his rather more morose goal: “to slog / my mortality in the dried vein / of lyric.”

In Part IV, “I Do Return, I Keep Returning,” we could say the poet has found his way to live up more directly to the injunction about “the deep, daily commitment to this life,” with poems about middle-aged love (“Return”), his daughters’ naming (“The Naming”), a story about, seemingly, ancestors—two sisters (“Sara and Lili”)—and poems that, like “My Goal” and “Only Happiness,” attest to the poet’s struggle to undertake the most quotidian of cares—fatherhood—while retaining a right to his own imagination.

My aim, which is my goal, is to love babblerockthis semblance, ordering of bordering babblerockbatshitdubreturn to the true strophes bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbthat delineate the catastrophe.

(“My Goal”)

The most problematic poem in the final section, wherein Berger seems to become a much more plainspoken poet, is called “The Art of the Future,” for there we find the poet trying as many pirouettes as possible so as to keep up a hope in an inspiration still to come, while returning to formal experiments dating back to W. C. Williams at least:

theWhat makes it theWhainteresting eWhat thmaare the changes. What makes it theWhatare the changes themakesarewhat makes theWhataretheit interesting are thechangeswhat makes the thechanges.whatchanges arethecthe what makes it changesthewhatwhat makes changestheit interesting changesthe changes

Throughout the book, Berger flirts with what used to be called “confessional poetry”—the poetry that assumed an existential continuity between the author and the speaker of the poem, so that everything said reflected on an autobiographical self. Berger, who studied with Kenneth Koch, is too much an ironist and a lover of the self-animated phrase to allow his poems to reduce to one man’s experience. And yet, there is a presence in the poems that we accept as the peculiar in-dwelling of James Berger as he tries to reflect and represent the world as he knows it and the world as he projects it. As “The Art of the Future” warns: “Don’t mistake / my intention / for intention.” Berger reserves the right to elude his own formulations through radical skepticism, perhaps, but, in middle-age, we may see that he was all along a poet of retention, that rather than having lost “the whole fucking deal,” he has kept it—and at it – all along and after all.

One wonders, then, what work this lengthy debut will be “prior” to.

James Berger Prior BlazeVOX [Books] 2013

James Berger, a resident of New Haven and a Senior Lecture in American Studies at Yale, reads with Joel Lewis, Saturday, March 29, 7:30 p.m., at Infinite Well LLC, 123 Court Street, New Haven.

I Has Cheeseburger!

A Review of Mark Lamoureux’s 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years Linking experiment to tradition without becoming stodgy, Mark Lamoureux’s 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years (Pressed Wafer, 2013) comprises two short Bildungsromans divided into tidy Elliptical poems that explore the self’s relation to consumerism.

The consumerism theme is apparent immediately, for who can glance at that delicious-looking, orange-and-white cover without craving an Orange Julius; who can see the title’s defiantly analytical plus-sign, and not be reminded of Fugazi’s Repeater + 3 Songs? The fast-food of “cheeseburgers,” the fruit-flavored smoothie coloration, and the typography of a post-Hardcore album sold in Hot Topic all bring to mind a shopping mall.

This is the world Lamoureux’s speaker inhabits, with all its empty glitz, and Lamoureux is well-aware of the fact, even as his speaker clings to his kitschy surroundings as models of how he wishes life were: Dualistic, plastic, with Hollywood-endings—in other words, easy.

Specifically, the speaker’s many enumerations of pop-culture references—some referring to actual products and media, others to imagined “properties”—can all be read as adolescent daydreaming. Intrusions from outside voices only carry trauma, as when the prosaic coherence of “Your father’s not coming back” inserts itself into “No. 5 Bernice Burger, Shady Glen Restaurant, Manchester, CT.”

Locating 29 Cheeseburgers’ scenes within the year-in-review poems of 39 Years, then, we realize these intrusions only exacerbate the speaker’s focus on his naively materialistic fantasies, as in “1982”:

            … Zicon*        X-Ray Man Cryasor, master of elements Chess Man Blue Swordsman‡ poetry review Red Lance§ Steel Star Knights: Lance, Sword, Axe, poetry review Mace, Bow      Thunderball¶ Utopian god of sound & light New Haven Review The terrific Triton Review of New Poetry, New Haven The changing Vulture…

Yes, much of 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years is escapism, but, as any American born after 1950 will recognize, escapism is almost universally a very real facet of our late 20th-century childhoods. Perhaps taking a cue from Carolyn Forché, Lamoureux is ostensibly reporting reality. The difference is that Lamoureux’s speaker is both subject and reporter, allowing for all the complex subjectivity implicit in a report on action nearly exclusively internal. Is, for instance, a “Cryasor” a bad-ass ‘cry(ogenic)-(dino)saur’ the speaker idolizes? Or is it the speaker’s at once humorous and tragic name for himself: ‘cry-a-sor(e)’?

In fact, Lamoureux is ingenious in unaffectedly offering such complex, refracting details, and in the case of the “Cryasor,” he is revealing a momentary flash of misunderstood maturity among the speaker’s thoughts. The “Cryasor” is a powerful idol, a disappointing reality and a terrifying beast all rolled into one, not merely a popgun prop or pun.

As such, this piece of pop-culture bric-a-brac foreshadows greater circumspection: As one of the objects with which the speaker identifies, the “Cryasor” is the ideal self, actual self and animal self—or super-ego, ego and id. It is “master of the elements” in every sense because it semantically unites all three elements of self into one word, one identity. After all, as Lamoureux is subtly telling us, power comes to the child when all aspects of the individual accept they are part of the unity; that is what we call, “adulthood.”

Of course, there is plenty of comic relief too, and much of it comes from the many riotous jabs several poems’ footnotes take at stodgy “literariness,” as when, footnoting “Doctor Doom” in “2000,” Lamoureux directly quotes the referenced comic-book character: “Before I tell you of my plan, let me demonstrate the power of my magnetic brainchildren.” Importantly, Lamoureux doesn’t use the footnote in a traditional way to explain what he’s referencing, nor does he surround the footnote’s text with quotation marks.

The reader unfamiliar with comic books, then, has no point of reference for this particular footnote. And, as Lamoureux is not attributing the quotation or even indicating it is one with punctuation, it becomes part of his speaker’s monologue, rather than authorial material intended to elucidate. In fact, cut off from its context as much any group of words can be, the statement becomes a cheeky aside from the speaker, the poem commenting on itself.

Moreover, this meta-text is a bit of facetious showboating, inserted as it is between the deftly executed mouthful of a pop-culture litany and an equally well-executed explication of that litany’s import. In other words, here we are hearing from a fully confident, adult speaker who has no problem taking the words out of Stan Lee’s mouth, while explaining and executing—at once—one hell of a verbal hat trick. Or, put even more simply, the words in the poem’s opening enumeration are the speaker’s “magnetic brain children,” while the less unmooring text following them is the “plan,” and the speaker is who else but Doctor Doom himself.

What more can we say about such goofy, if often bewildering, prose appendages, except that Lamoureux is obviously being a smartass with them. As with the example given above, every footnote in 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years bucks the traditional purpose of footnotes and obscures more than it reveals for any reader unwilling to unpack the text; sometimes, Lamoureux uses the notes to argue with the book’s editors, rebelliously reinserting deleted lines, while at other times he is telling readers to research a reference themselves or fuck off.

But, in any case, as with the “Doctor Doom” footnote and the “Cryasor” reference, there is typically a lot more going on psychologically for the speaker of 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years behind every word of its kitschy confusion than might initially come across. Lamoureux’s book simply wants acutely engaged readers willing to break out Google and Wikipedia as they read, and should that really be too much to ask?

Finally, we have the question of how to read this book. As mentioned above, Lamoureux is writing Elliptical poetry that, in some instances, borders on Language poetry. Yet the problem with placing these poems in either the Elliptical or Language categories is that Lamoureux isn’t disregarding syntax and diction or using jarring parataxis merely to be cute, unnerving or gimmicky.

Rather, these mechanisms make his poems cinematic, and the reader would do well to read each word as a frame in a montage: As when watching a movie, our minds must construct the book’s narrative out of pieces that are actually discrete. In this way, Lamoureux’s poems, in their presentation as products of Hollywood, are structurally true to their settings and themes. What results, then, is a melding of method and theme into a totality that would satisfy classical aesthetics while doing so in a way that answers the postmodern call to experimentation and disjunction to a degree of which few poets are capable.

29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years Mark Lamoureux Pressed Wafer, 2013


Mark Lamoureux, a New Haven resident, reads Saturday, March 29, 8 p.m, at WAVEMACHINE, 1175 Chapel Street #601, New Haven, with poets Ossian Foley and David James Miller.

The Long Read Coming to a Town Near You!

What is The Long Read?

Following in the wake of our season of weekly readings for Listen Here!, the New Haven Review, the New Haven Theater Company, and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven have dutifully organized a six-hour reading marathon in which we revisit the best stories of the last year, as selected by our voters. So if you missed them the first time, come see them now! If you liked them the first, see them again!

How does The Long Read work?

The Long Read! is a simple idea: buy one ticket, stay for as long as you like. Come to the first hour or the last hour, or every other hour. Do what you will and take your downtime in Bar, where we'll be reading our tales of joy and woe, pleasure and passion, heartbreak and healing. To get your tickets, visit . No box office pick up needed. Just print them off from your computer!!

So when is it?

Sunday, June 6, 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., with stories paired for reading each hour.

And where is it?

At Bar, located at 254 Crown Street in New Haven!

Did you say Bar?!

Yeah, we did.

But, like, isn't that a bar…and a restaurant…and, well, noisy?

Sure. But Bar has a back room ideal for performance. We know because the New Haven Theater Company has performed there in the past already. So no worries on that front!

And what are you reading again…and when?

Oh, yeah…that. Here it is:

From 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.,

    J.D. Salinger's "The Laughing Man," read by Steve Scarpa

    John Cheever's "The Pot of Gold," read by Brooks Appelbaum

From 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.,

    Jim Shepard's "Courtesy for Beginners," read byT.Paul Lowry

    Steve Almond's "The Soul Molecule," read by Sharen McKay

From 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.,

    Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl," read by Shola Cole

    Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O.," read by Brooks Appelbaum

    Dave Eggers' "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Was Drowned," read by T.Paul Lowry

From 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.,

    Tobias Wolff's "Hunters in the Snow," read by Eric Nyquist

    James Farrell's "My Grandmother Goes to Comiskey Park," Steve Scarpa

From 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.,

    James Thurber's "You Could Look it Up," read by T. Paul Lowry

    Marisa Silver's "What I Saw from Where I Stood," read by Eric Nyquist

From 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.,

    Kurt Vonnegut's "Miss Temptation," read by Steve Scarpa

    David Sedaris' "You Can't Kill the Rooster," read by Jeremy Funke

Listen Here Thanks You!

We at the New Haven Review wanted to thank all of those who participated in the spring 2010 season of Listen Here! Among those to whom we are grateful:

The staff of the New Haven Review and its trustees: You helped pick the stories, you attended the readings, you cheered the series along. Thank you!

The staff of the New Haven Theater Company: T. Paul Lowry, director of the New Haven Theater Company, and Brooks Appelbaum, who cast and directed this series, you have been indefatigable in your efforts and support for this project. Thank you!

The Arts Council of Greater New Haven: Director of Communications, David Brensilver, and his colleagues at the Arts Council, you have been with us from the beginning, lending moral and marketing support to this project. Thank you!

Our Actors: There are too many to thank by name, but, we'll give it the college try: T.Paul and Brooks, Eric Nyquist, Jeremy Funke, Hilary Brown, Sharen McKay, Ian Alderman, Rachel Alderman, Steve Scarpa, George Kulp, Rebecka Jones and others, you stepped up to the plate to read on our behalf. Thank you!

Our Coffee House sponsors: Owners and staff of Koffee, Blue State Coffee, Manjares Fine Pastries, Willoughby's, Lulu, and Bru, you have been great hosts to this event. We raise a cup…of coffee…to you. Thank you!

Our Audience: Without you, there would be no Listen Here! We do this because all of the participating organizations believe in the value of performance, of literature, of community. We are grateful to have had you as our guests. We hope you'll continue to attend. Thank you!

For the next season, fall 2010, we continue to experiment with the idea of the "public reading." You can look forward to our exploring readings paired with musical interludes or background effects; ensemble readings of a single story; side-by-side readings in English and a foreign language; readings against slide show or video backgrounds; and whatever else our brains can cook up for the next season!





New Haven Author Chandra Prasad Reads

We're big fans of Chandra Prasad at New Haven Review. She's an accomplished novelist and greater New Haven resident. What more could one ask?

When Chandra published Breathe the Sky: A Novel Inspired by the Life of Amelia Earhart, we were all quite excited! There's even a part in the novel when Amelia comes to New Haven!

So take advantage of seeing, listening, and breathing the same air as Ms. Prasad at Cheshire Public Library (104 Main Street, Cheshire, CT 06410-2406) this Thursday, May 13 at 7:00 p.m., where she'll be reading.

The program is free and open to the public. For more information about Chandra, check her out at

We partied like it was ten years ago

1999, to be exact. On Saturday, the New Haven Review took over , the antiques and restoration house on Whalley Avenue. Owner John Cavaliere has retrofitted the old vaudeville space in the back, and so what choice did we have but to throw a party to celebrate issue #5? First, we ate and drank for an hour. The mango champagne punch was swell. Then the 75 or so guests retired to the theater, where NHR editor Brian Slattery (violin, guitar, piano), Craig Edwards (violin, guitar), and Joe DeJarnette (upright bass) played backup music as local notables (“locables”) read stories by their favorite authors. (Thanks to Laurel Silton for taking the pictures.)


Actor Bruce Altman read from Philip Roth’s Indignation and The Breast.


read Grace Paley.


Janna Wagner read Lorrie Moore.


Nora Khan read James Salter.


And read Ian Frazier.

And then we drank again. And we ate more. Arlene Ghent catered, with pastries by Manjares. Have you had their brownies? I ask you—have you had their brownies?

We raised some money in pledges—low four figures, since you asked—but that wasn’t the point. The point was seeing people, meeting people. Tom Gogola was there. New Haven native Darius James, late of New York Press, was there. and were there. My mom was there. Pang-Mei Chang was there, seeing John Cavaliere for the first time since high school. Bruce Tulgan and Debby Applegate were there. Betty Lockhart was there.

You were there. And if you weren’t, you should have been.

Or were you home watching ?

2nd Town Meets Gown Read In

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. New Haven Review and Yale University’s McDougal Center for Graduate Student Life will host its 2nd Town Meets Gown Read In, where writers from New Haven and the Yale communities come together to share original works of poetry and prose. The “Read In” features five writers from each community and is approximately two hours long, with discussion afterwards. Refreshments will be served for this event, which is free of charge.  The New Haven Review ( is the literary arts journal of the Elm City; the Yale University McDougal Center for Graduate Student Life hosts events by and for graduate students on a regular basis.

Admission is free.  Readings are at McDougal Center for Graduate Student Life, 320 York Street, New Haven


I have to confess I’m not a great admirer of the short story.  The form is too anecdotal for me, I guess.  My lack of enthusiasm seems due to the fact that my acquaintance with the characters in the story will be too brief to be worth my attention.  And I usually just find myself waiting for the story to be done -- like when someone starts telling you a long-winded personal anecdote and you’re just waiting for the punch-line or the inherent query, or whatever. With novels, there are a variety of situations, or else the permutations of a particular situation.  In stories, it’s all situation.  The characters often seem to be no more than the ‘types’ who have been recruited to fill that situation.  So it seems to me that those with a knack for short story writing are simply skilled at populating situations with types of people.  When I find the same thing happening in a novel, I tend to set it aside.

I say all this simply to show that I’m not a push-over when it comes to stories.  But at the recent “Listen Here!” event I attended at Koffee? I witnessed another aspect of stories: they are short enough to be read publically, in one sitting, and everyone present can have a collective experience of ‘watching’ the story unfold.  It’s a bit like watching a movie (in your head) but you can actually see the other people listening.  It’s much more participatory, for the audience.  Maybe it’s a bit more like stand-up comedy where the comedian is a good storyteller.  Though with the kinds of stories chosen, it’s not going to be the case that the audience will always be laughing or simply amused.

It’s also a bit like drama -- particularly the one-person show or dramatic monologue.  Except most dramatic monologues are written in a more ‘stagey’ way than short stories are.  That can certainly help for memorization purposes and to help the actor stay in character.  What the reader of a short story has to do is a bit more subtle: dramatize the voice of the narrator so that we feel he (at the reading I attended both actors were male) is, in a sense, speaking for himself.

That I think is the difference between unskilled and skilled reading aloud.  In the former the person is clearly just reading words already on the page; in the latter, the person delivers those words with a bit of the illusion that they are just now coming to him.

This was particularly successful with the first story, J. D. Salinger’s “The Laughing Man” because the voice of Salinger’s narrator is so personable, giving us the persona of an older, but still somewhat child-like, speaker who is able to completely inhabit his somewhat precocious earlier self.  And the story doubly worked because the situation of the story -- in which a group of kids in a day-camp are regaled by their “Chief” with stories of the Laughing Man -- doubled the act of listening.  We, the audience, listened to hear, as the kids did, how the story of the Laughing Man would come out, and also listened to how the framing tale, of the boy’s relation to the Chief and that phase of his life, would come out.  The fact that Salinger dovetails these two situations so effectively made the experience of listening -- even if you already knew that outcome as I did -- a true tour de force.

The second story, Ray Bradbury’s “Have I Got a Chocolate Bar for You,” was somewhat less successful; maybe because we’d already listened to a great story, it had more work to do, but I also felt that the story groped for its ending.  Or rather: that Bradbury had decided what the ending would be -- the idea of a chocolate bar blessed by the pope and given to a priest in thanks -- and then had to get there.  It seemed a bit strained by the end.  But what made the story quite enjoyable as a listening experience was the actor’s ability to render the speaking voice of the priest -- gruff, at times impatient, but compassionate -- and the voice of the young boy -- which was very winning, and articulate, even if somewhat abashed.

So what made for good stories in dramatic presentation: either a great narrating voice, as in Salinger’s; or good back-and-forth dialogue, as in Bradbury’s.

There’s another reading this week, Thursday, 7 p.m., at Lulu’s on Cottage Street.  Hope to see you there.

Summer Book Group July 2: The Rest is Noise

Just a reminder: The New Haven Review's at continues this Wednesday, July 2, with Tom Gogola leading a discussion of Alex Ross's . Quite possibly this discussion will include demonstration, as Tom is an excellent guitar player. Hope to see you there.

is an editor of the New Haven Review.