Passage Analysis

The safety gate in our front hallway had been obsolete for a while – my three-year old had figured out how to unlock it by herself, and for the past few months we’d been primarily using it as a drying rack for wet mittens.


When I finally got around to disassembling it last week, my daughters treated it like the fall of the Berlin Wall and celebrated with some prolonged butt-wiggling. My wife, realizing that our baby was no longer our baby, quickly found herself on the verge of tears. And every time I passed the top of the stairwell – saw an opening where a gate once was – I couldn’t help but sense the start of a poem.


A poem, of course, is made up of stanzas, a word that means rooms in Italian, but it’s the movement between and within those rooms that turns the poem into poetry.


Not a thought, as Elizabeth Bishop said, but a mind thinking.                          


I am often struck by how much both my daughters love hallways. Try to settle them anywhere and they’ll want to escape – longing for that freedom to move about, for the opportunity to bounce between rooms.


My wife is convinced that we need to feed them less sugar, but I like to think of it as part of their initiation to the restless energy of poetry.


Poetry at its most basic level, writes Matthew Zapruder, is about… the leap from one thought to another: what I call the associative movement particular to poetry. That leap, that movement, is what makes poetry poetry.


The other day, though, after returning home from an extended stay at the playground, my three-year-old made it halfway up the stairs before deciding to plop on down.


Of all places to stop and rest, I thought, why would someone want to plant their face on a wet and sandy stair?


But because I’ve learned that it’s easier to think of my three-year-old as a metaphor than it is to understand the logic behind her actions, I started thinking about passages – not the ones we write, but the ones we must seek out in order to write – and what it means to dwell in those corridors between inner and outer worlds.

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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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