Making it New

My four-year-old has been coming home from pre-school lately singing songs about recycling, which my wife and I have seized as an opportunity to get rid of the stacks and stacks of paper – covered in purple scribbles and Trader Joes stickers – cluttering the house.


It’s our way of honoring the earth, we tell her whenever she begins to protest.


The other day, though, I was about to get rid of a giant pile of Minnie Mouse coloring pages when I noticed an actual mouse sitting in the recycling bin beneath the kitchen sink.


I normally hate seeing mice.


Our previous attempts to capture them in humane ways have gone comically wrong, which has left me with no other option than to cross get rid of mice off my to-do-list and replace it with ignore mice instead.


But there was something about this particular mouse that intrigued me. The spoils of last night’s dinner were just a few feet away and here he was feasting on old scraps of paper.


Poetry, for me, always originates from that feeling of being in the wrong bin.


And there’s something about recycling, itself, that feels essential to poetry: the process of stripping language down – attending to its sounds and senses, rhythms and textures – before transforming it into new material.   


I was beginning to wonder if Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was simply the environmentalist’s way of saying Kill your Darlings, Steal Like an Artist, and Make It New, when I heard my daughters starting to stir in the next room and realized I only had a few more minutes before they’d appear and try to convince me that the eleven drawings of winking mermaids on the fridge were too precious to part with.


But my mind was tingling with poetry, now, and for the moment I was no longer thinking of their artwork as clutter but saw it as potential material waiting to be reconsidered with a fresh set of eyes.

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, is just out from Able Muse Press.  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 is the Poetry Editor at Solstice Literary Magazine.

See other articles by Ben Berman
by Ben Berman


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