"In this collection, van Berkum deftly recalls the muddle of childhood and recaptures an awakening to life in the world. Flowers and puddles, crows and bison are transfigured into emblems of desire and give way to a plain-spoken queer love in a sequence of poems that record deep, irredeemable loss. The poet writes with an urgency, lines that sprawl or shrink as if she is trying to map a retreating horizon. In one poem, van Berkum says about a windmill that she “… cried for it to be what it seemed.” The whole book aches with this crying out. It invites the reader to attend to the interstices between our lives and our experience of the world, reminding us that the earth is alive with magic, that the most powerful witchcraft might still be love."
D Eric Parkison, author of No Arcadia
Karina van Berkum’s Warren is a festival of wisdom and pleasure, qualities captured in poems both beautifully felt and rendered. A love of life permeates even the darkest poems, and these bright moments celebrate their opposites. When a bit of well-traveled chocolate is fished from the bottom of a “crummy pack” during a hiking picnic, the speaker and her father agree, “It tasted good on the mountain / And it tastes good now....” When a former lover is happened upon, whose presence “shines,” the speaker considers her own disheveled appearance, noting “the brutal face of / Old love as it / Preserves her.” In poem after poem, life and its encounters are treasured. She writes, “Nobody lives that long and we know it,” and Karina van Berkum’s book adds to the pleasure of life in the best way: reading Warren, one feels renewed and refreshed.
John Skoyles, author of Driven and Suddenly It’s Evening: Selected Poems.
Playful and erudite, Karina van Berkum's poems tease the limits of language. van Berkum's inventive syntax and lexicon open multiple worlds, the "no" and the "yes" of things ballast these poems. From lyrebirds to lovers, from quantum entanglement to Greenland to the percussion of clocks, these poems "take the feral shine."
Sue Standing, author of False Horizon
Karina van Berkum’s smack-in-the-eye imagery knocks you back. Got to hold on here, there’s a “freight train at the door.” What’s in—who’s in—this fresh spring of a voice? “Socks puddle over her shoes, / She chews her lips… / Bumbles / Over root knuckles…” The budding poet, of course, who sees it all coming: the raw-throated sound of a new song—leaning in to listen, scratching her soul to sing, boarding the bus, refusing to look the other way. “But I’m on the 183 / Words swelling / To sentences in my ribs…” A breakthrough: “The way a clean sky feels the weight of its light, she wrote…” riding another bus, in another land, working through tears. The voice grows needy, fingering the insides of words—the “swollen centers” of “Prague,” of “Tongue”— tests the ache of the one against the other. Dares turn its tone toward “… Tongue, sitting wet/In a gray station, / Dying to go.” The mouth reveals teeth: “I want to chew your heart like a plum, / Its pit. I want to—need it.” The heart leaps to “… burn/Lovesick and young / Up the highway.” There are days, nights, when “… the void is on the line.” But life demands patience: “… you’ll have the secret when I die.” Then too, there is love’s body drawing “Nearer than the ivy to the wall is.…” Karina is on her own and in your hands now, dear reader. Time to take her at her word: “… Should I write / What I have seen?” She will touch you where it hurts. Where the heart lurks. Such a deep word-caring work this Warren is.
John Perrault, author of Season of Shagginess, former Poet Laureate of Portsmouth, NH
The poems of Karina van Berkum’s Warren debut a voice so disarmingly charming, so original and winning, it’s impossible not to get swept up in its inquisitive wisdom; the book is rife with arresting realizations. The fairy-tale-like observations of a child with one foot in an imaginary world more substantive than the hard facts that make everything “less wonderful” are followed by more grownup grappling with loves and losses, and the phantom pain of a baby who won’t become real. With skill and brilliance van Berkum shows us that happily ever after is for suckers—it’s the strangeness and complexity of a life that must be celebrated, documented, and loved. Reader: books this resonant are rare.
Maggie Dietz, author of That Kind of Happy
by Karina van Berkum
$21.95, paperback, 104 pp