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This review is taken from PN Review 115, Volume 23 Number 5, May - June 1997.

DARK INTERIORS STEPHEN BERG, Oblivion (University of Illinois Press) $12.95
DONALD JUSTICE, New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf) $25
MICHAEL S. HARPER, Honorable Amendments (University of Illinois Press) $12.95
DAVE SMITH, Fate's Kite: Poems 1991-1995 (Louisiana State University Press)

The oblivion which Stephen Berg faces in his collection is of various types: there is the death of his mother, the slow drift of a friend towards madness and suicide; the void that opens up beneath the appearances of the everyday world. And these oblivions come in different forms: poem-fragments imitating Sappho (words and phrases strewn artfully across the page); prose-poems; free-verse lyrics; 11 pages of rhyming couplets. The tone of the book is often frantic, as though the poet facing oblivion is grappling with words and experiences, trying to make them come together. Here's the opening of the title poem:

a child's arms opening (it's strapped in a stroller, zipped into a snowsuit), mine flung out too in spontaneous embrace as we pass, strangers ages apart on the crowded Christmas street rapt in identity, 'the blight man was born for'? a despair warns us, as we pass, the packed decorated store windows winking at us, the few dead I knew, relatives, friends, still speak to me as if they needed something, food? an idea? hope? to let me know the chaos of death, to teach me disappearance in silence […]

Here there is the juxtaposition between the occurants of daily life and the 'chaos of death' stretching out beneath them. Berg attempts to face the horror with an unswerving gaze, taking in along the way the absurdities of human behaviour - scat-ology ('In the Infinitive'), sexuality ('Oblivion') and money ('Cold Cash') - but often ...

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