The Power of Disruption

Last night, I was brushing my teeth when I noticed a pair of socks in the toilet.


Why are your socks in the toilet, I asked my four-year-old.


Mama told me to put them away in my drawer, she said.


So how did they end up in the toilet, I asked.


I didn’t feel like putting them away in my drawer, she said.


And though I wasn’t in the mood to put on a pair of rubber gloves and fish my four-year-old’s socks out of the toilet, I’ve come to appreciate that such disruptions are at the heart of every good story.


At its most basic level, a disruption is what flings a piece of writing forward.


We meet a character going about their lives in the most mundane of ways when wham! along comes some inciting incident to transform them into a protagonist.


Or said protagonist is on a clear path towards their goal until bam! some obstacle forces them to distinguish between what they want and what they need.


Poems – especially poems that work their way through an argument (even if it’s a quarrel, as Auden said, with ourselves) – also thrive on disruptions.


The sonnet, of course, is known for dramatically shifting directions with a volta between its octave and sestet – but such shifts are essential to the movement of many contemporary poems as they snake their way through paradoxical ideas, each turn inciting a new insight.


The problem, though, is that can be hard to find the right-sized disruption.


Too often, when composing a piece, we find ourselves encountering an interruption that merely gives us a slight pause before we continue on our merry way.


The story or poem knows where it’s going from the get go and though it slows down to overcome an obstacle or consider a contradiction, it’s like trying to convince your uncle that climate change isn’t fake news – he might let you speak your peace but you’re not really changing his mind.


Other times, we find disruption’s post-modern cousins – discontinuity and discombobulation – knocking at our door.


They zoom around our tidy stanzas like Thing 1 and Thing 2, unsettle us with such existential anxiety that afterwards we no longer trust language’s ability to convey the simplest of truths because language, itself, is about as stable as a goldfish jar on top of a rake.


And because too many evenings, these days, offer A Cat in the Hat kind of balancing act – unpacking the day’s lunches with one hand while making tomorrow’s lunches with the other, vacuuming parmesan cheese off the carpet while playing hide and seek – I often find myself desperately seeking routine and order.


But on my better days, I’m able to recognize the beauty of chaos, watch my four-year-old dump an entire tray of silverware into the bath so she can host a royal feast for her rubber duckies – and see not the wake of destruction but the wakefulness of disruption.

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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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