Nostalgia for a world Where We can Live
poems | Monica Berlin
Winner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Poetry Open
Selected by Adrian Matejka
[Southern Illinois University Press, 2018]
“These are poems to keep close, to hold in case of emergency. When we are brought to our knees—whether by ruin or by grace, by the news or by the day’s little disasters, or by our own foolish hearts—Berlin’s Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live, all big-mouthed love and patient tending—to sorrow, to memory, to language—abides.”—Beth Marzoni, coauthor of No Shape Bends the River So Long
“To read Monica Berlin’s Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live is to reexamine the world we know through adversity and loss instead of a pair of eyes—everything is more intricate, everything is that much more concentrated and unbelievable in the memoried spaces of these precise, elegant poems. Nostalgia suggests longing, but these poems create new, unexplored experiences from what we understand of memory’s bigger insistences: tributaries of recollections and gestures that remind us that where we are now is almost as important as where we’ve been. In these poems, every tiny detail is part of the larger circumstance of human need. Each remembrance spins like a song from a lost record while Berlin lets us hear everything—the immaculate static, the rippling grooves of want, and the unavoidable fulfillment that follows.”—Adrian Matejka, author of Map to the Stars and The Big Smoke
“I still remember, vividly, the first time I encountered a Monica Berlin poem. I could not stop talking about it, much less forget it: the abundance and intelligence in its lines, its psychologically-charged attention to Midwestern landscape, its unswerving outward gaze, and ultimately the poet's fierce and admirable heart. I loved reading every page of this book.”—Katrina Vandenberg, author of The Alphabet Not Unlike the World and Atlas
“This book asks essential questions about the world we live in, a world defined by disaster, in which the speaker finds herself ‘stunned silent or stunned angry / or just stunned.’ There is a beloved child, who a mother realizes will ‘go on without us.’ There is a dead father who haunts every landscape. Most of all, there is the news—towns are swallowed by floods, levees are breached, cities burned, and earthquakes wreck the earth. And yet there is not only grief but vivid joy. This is a book about how to navigate a life and how to raise a child in a world that is both brutal and beautiful.”—Nicole Cooley, author of On Marriage and Breach
Monica Berlin’s Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live resides at the turbulent confluence of relentless news cycles and the repeated rending of our interior lives. In Berlin’s poetry sorrow makes its own landscape—solitary, intimate, forward-looking. Whether we attempt to traverse it or choose bypass, her poems show us where we live, how we carry on.
These poems notice the day in the wind, the night tucked up to the train tracks, and a slipping-in of yesterday, memory-laden, alongside the promise of a more hopeful tomorrow. Here is the Midwest, vibrant and relic, in the ongoing years of collapse and recovery. Here the constant companionship of weather lays claim to its own field of vision. Here, too, devastation: what’s left after. Berlin reminds us we are at the mercy of rivers, oceans, earth, wind, rain, blizzard, drought, and each other. “Maybe what I mean / to say is that I’ve come to see all the names we might / recognize destruction by,” Berlin’s speaker discovers. “We might / sometimes, stupidly, call it love.”
On her familiar prairie of lyricism and tumult, beauty and ruin, Berlin’s poems insist, plead, and seek to reassure. In a collection both mournful and urgent, both a “little book of days” and a song, this poet meditates on loss, wonder, and always the consolations of language.