Under the Impression

January 2020

James Berger, the unseen hand behind two searing volumes of OBU [One Big Union / Oligarchy Busters United] manifestos, emerges into light in Under the Impression. Known in the OBU books as an advocate for labor unions, radical politics, and yet-unimagined forms of social solidarity, here we encounter a poet whose imaginative and intellectual cv includes many passions: the history and literatures of ancient Greece and Rome, art, baseball, jazz, puns (good and bad), insects as beings and as metaphysics, tennis, fatherhood (from both sides), a mother’s death, marriage, intellectual disability, sex, John Ashbery, hiphop rhymes, friendship, and poetry as form, profession, aesthetics, politics, satire and lyric. Where OBU was “a project,” this volume projects many more lenses of Berger’s fly-eye. This is a manual on how to see the contemporary world and to survive that seeing, while knowing that “It’s only now that the saddest thing in the world is joy.”

—Susan M. Schultz, author of I Want to Write an Honest Sentence

Under the Impression transverses the spongy dents in the surfaces of language and memory. Anti-lyrical and insistently lyrical, frank, interrogative, and punctuated with humor, Berger’s poems articulate brilliantly an inventive scepticism of the real world’s edges and fictions. Lines like “The cat is chasing the bouncing ball. / Can you determine if that is a true statement?” and “What’s so pressing?…We will see the shape when we no longer see the violence” imbue Berger’s reader with a monstrous sensitivity toward the perceptible persistence of absence, time, injustice, and the possibility of happiness.

—Orchid Tierney, author of ocean plastic and a year of misreading the wildcats

James Berger grew up near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He has degrees from Columbia University and the University of Virginia. He is a Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Yale University, and is author of two academic monographs (After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse and The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity), of one other book of poems, Prior (BlazeVOX, 2013), and is the midwife and conduit of The OBU Manifestos and The OBU Manifestos vol. 2 (both published by Dispatches Editions/Spuyten Duyvil Press). He is now writing a book about the difficulties in imagining a future that is just and sustainable. The book’s structure will be a spiral, but it will be unclear whether it is moving up or down.