Crossing Boundaries

It wasn’t even three in the morning and my five-year-old wanted to know if it was time to wake up yet.


After all, it was the first of April, which, if you’re five, is the day that all of your mischief and little white lies are suddenly sanctioned by the federal government.


That the beginning of National Poetry Month happens to overlap with April Fools Day got me thinking about the relationship between writing a poem and pulling off a good prank.



Craft, after all, is another word for guile, and art often relies on its artifice – is a matter of set-up and payoff, subtle revelations, a commitment to finding the truth, as Stephen King writes, inside the lie.


And there’s something, too, about their shared spirit – the playful and disruptive side of the imagination, as Lewis Hyde writes about in Trickster Makes This World, a book devoted to exploring how artists cross boundaries in order to reveal higher truths and the plentitude and complexity of the divine. 


So it makes sense that we start National Poetry Month on a day devoted to mayhem. 


After all, April is the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot wrote, and how else could one explain my two-year-old rubbing toothpaste in her sister’s hair then slapping the glasses off my face and announcing, Dat so funny!


And yet it is not the art of playing tricks that ultimately interests, but what it means to play the fool.


For poetry, like parenting, is about crossing boundaries. It returns us to our most irrational, ridiculous and vulnerable selves, and in doing so, offers us the possibility of transcendence.


And when you’re middle-aged – halfway through a career and mortgage – there is no greater blessing than that.

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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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