“Because design, alone, doesn’t hold weight,/” Ben Berman writes in his remarkable second collection of poems, “we need concrete material—the image/ of a bridge over the sound of water.” In Figuring in the Figure, Berman explores the nature of form in its deepest most complex sense. His luminous details evoke a world of mutable forms and shapes that suggest the fragility of our lives. The book culminates with a moving, realistic yet lyrical sequence of poems about the birth of his daughter. This is a quietly beautiful book that deserves attention and recognition.
—Jeff Friedman, author of Pretenders
Figuring in the Figure is a self-portrait of a man becoming a father. Ben Berman writes inside a modified terza rima that makes a virtue out of clarity and discernment. The influence here of Frost returns us to Frost’s virtues: these poems make points and have a point of view. Like Frost, Berman is unsparing in his introspection. He offers us an ongoing philosophy: when faced with the pain and contradiction of everyday life, “to delay judgment and contemplate . . . incompatible thoughts.”
—Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus
Ben Berman’s nimble terza rima is the perfect vehicle for the poems of Figuring in the Figure. Both expansive and structured, the interwoven stanzas allow him to form and reform probing questions of identity without ever forsaking a deep musicality. We watch the speaker ponder mouse droppings, hit the wall in a marathon, describe the great molasses flood of 1919, diaper a doll in a birthing class, then try to manage his “tiny fascist” of a toddler who wouldn’t stop until “every bookshelf toppled/ like a/ failed coup.” His observations are enriched with various kinds of humor—aphorisms, riddles, word plays, and puns. This book is wise and wonderful.
—Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi, author of Unmentionables
Ben Berman’s fine, clever poems are never merely clever. Their frisky formal play is finally and importantly about the finding of forms that might adequately contain our feelings. As his title, Figuring in the Figure, suggests, Berman is fond of double meanings; indeed, he is in love with all the twists and turns of language, as well as all the structures that display the pleasures of thinking. If invention is his inclination, order is his learned yet sly companion, “a partner,” he writes, “the type/ that coyly invites chaos to dance.”
—Lawrence Raab, author of Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts