Sound Ideas

My two-year-old’s favorite word these days is doo-doo.


She’ll tell friendly store clerks that that is her name.


She’ll cry for us in middle of the night. I hongry, she’ll say when we get to her crib. What do you want to eat? we’ll ask. Doo-doo, she’ll say, before dropping back to sleep.


There’s something about the echo of those oohs that makes the word so funny – offers us music belying meaning.


As someone who likes to write in rhyme and form, I often think about the relationship between sound and sense.


I once read a study that showed if a saying rhymed, people were more likely to believe it wise. Click it or ticket, a billboard reads, and it suddenly clicks that our lives are worth saving.


But rhyming can also be used to create a sense of lightness.


When we’re late for work and our two-year-old insists that she put on her own shoes, we can’t just scream: hurry the hell up. But if we yell chop, chop, lollipop, we strike the right balance between playfulness and urgency.


I’m mostly interested, though, in the way that language leads us to grapple with multitudes and contradictions.


When my older daughter was a newborn, she went through a phase when she would wake up screaming almost every hour throughout the night, and we’d stumble to her crib, exhausted and worn down.


I’ve never felt so weak and awake at the same time, my wife once said.


And as I watched her rock our daughter back to sleep with an almost radiant calm, I began thinking about the deep bond between those two similar-sounding words – weak and awake – and how central they were to parenting and writing, these realms where attentiveness to our own vulnerability can be our greatest strength.

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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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by Ben Berman



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