Actual Air
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Actual Air

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  1,501 ratings  ·  141 reviews
David Berman reinvents the overlooked and seemingly ordinary details of everyday life -- from the suitcase of a departing girlfriend to a baseboard electrical outlet. His poems chart a course through his own highly original American dreamscape in language that is fresh, accessible, and remarkably precise. This debut collection has received extraordinary acclaim from reader...more
Hardcover, 93 pages
Published February 22nd 2000 by Turtleback Books (first published July 1999)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paquita Maria Sanchez
Reading poetry books by great musicians reminds me of looking at a photographer's contact sheet, seeing all the exciting potentialities here and there before stumbling upon that image of the decisive moment all boxed in by scratchy neon sharpie. Oh, and David Berman is a fucking fantastic musician, his band, Silver Jews serving as a temporary miracle cure for any number of lost, post-college, late-20th-century suburban throwaways dropped somewhere along the fringes of the straight and narrow pat...more
Brian Foley
I don't care what aging stigma of indie rock journalism has you paralyzed, as a book of poems Actual Air stands alone.
Jeff Jackson
Avoided this for a long time because I assumed these were gussied up variations of David Berman's lyrics for The Silver Jews. Stupid me. These are the excellent poems that far outstrip what he does for his band. He should write more.
Gabriella
Jul 01, 2007 Gabriella rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of poetry and indie rock
in times of crisis i carry around books of poetry the way that some people carry around religious texts, reading and re-reading familiar poems like prayers. this is my crisis-tome of the moment.
there is a beautiful artlessness to david berman's poetry that belies the breadth of his content and vision. "self-portrait at 28" is a work of particular brilliance; each time i read it i am piqued and comforted, loving it anew. this is slim little book packed with vast, surprising greatness.
Rayroy
"All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones,
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and spilt in two"

So there is a David Foster Wallace station on Last.fm, and guess what just came on that's right "Send in The Clowns" by Sliver Jews, before that Mountian Goats and a Marcal Proust reading! and now "Range Life" by Pavement is Playing, so fans of good indie rock like good books too, I'm not the only one, you mean people actually read bo...more
Nick
Jun 18, 2007 Nick rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: blond jewish people
Shelves: poetry
You might find an interview with Berman somewhere on the web, as I did, in which he states that in assembling Actual Air he collected all his interesting ones and frontloaded the thing with all his best work.

This is pretty much true, except for...you know, some exceptions. There's some reaching for a taste of real greatness in those few beginning poems - stately lines that oscillate between two emotions. Wry, sad, funny.

Berman has a beautiful feel for characters down on their luck, characters yo...more
Andrew Kirkpatrick
i just re-read this the other day. being a huge fan of Berman and seeing I consider him one of, if not the, most influential voices in my life, my review is probably going to be a bit biased. by giving 5 stars to a book of poetry, you'd probably assume that the entire contents are a-grade. this is obviously not the case. but there are some great poems, poems I could probably quote, were I not writing this on my phone. and it's in those great poems where you get those great lines that do warrant...more
Eric
Giving a rating for this--or nearly any--collection of poetry would be easier if you could rate individual poems. There were some really good poems here, some not-so-good poems, and some pretty OK poems. But whatever...it's all pretty subjective.

My favorite poem in this collection was also one one of the longest: "Self-Portait at 28". Some sample lines...

Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declar
...more
Jim
I don't claim to know a single thing about poetry, and it's never really been my thing, though I know I should pay more attention to it. Anyway, I'm so ignorant of most of this stuff that Berman and Bukowski are the only people whose poetry I've bothered to actually read. I like them both, but when I venture outside these two authors I seem to run into a brick wall of shit poetry. Anyway Berman's stuff is endlessly amusing, and furthermore he has said some of the best things I've ever heard anyo...more
A.K.
These poems are like Berman's songs in most ways: some are killers, some are sleepers, some are neither here nor there. The ones that are neither here nor there are flooded by the stop/start fuckbrilliance of the others. Like uncanny, bad thrift-store art that reveals its dream logic when reversed in a mirror. Sometimes Berman so singularly wrangles English into revelation it gives me goddamn chills.
Tessa
I bought a copy. I pretty much knew I'd like this because I'm a big Silver Jews fan, but I was pleased to find that these still retained Berman's humor while also not being identifiable as "poems written by a lyricist". (This is because Berman is, at his core, a writer, I think.)
Kyle
If Christ had died in a hallway we might pray in hallways
or wear little golden hallways around our necks.
James Tierney
At its best, Berman's sly, cold morning vernacular is marvelous to behold.
Krzysztof
Since everyone here has already highlighted "Self Portrait at 28", I'll give another that I liked:

"Piano and Scene"

A child needs to know the point of the holiday.

His aunt is saying grace over a decaffeinated coffee
and her daughter is reading a Russian novel
whose 45 chapters are set
on 45 consecutive Valentine’s Days.

Grandpa is telling the kids fairy tales
from Pennsylvania’s pretzel-making region

and it’s hard for me to be in the mood
you want me to be in right now,

as I’m suddenly wrapped u...more
Lisa Eckstein
I read this book of poetry because of a recommendation in the poetry episode of the Bookrageous podcast. It's rare for me to read poetry, though I do often like it.

Many of the poems in the collection are just the sort I enjoy reading. I was surprised that about the same number didn't appeal to me much at all. I'm sure that all of the poems are as well-crafted as the ones I liked most, but I have fairly specific tastes when it comes to poetry.

In general, I prefer poems that present a scene or sma...more
Tracy O
Nov 20, 2007 Tracy O rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People Who Need Inspiration for Song Lyrics
Shelves: poetry
I read all of the poems in this book with nary a blip on my emotional radar – they are collections of highly ironic and clever (and, sometime pleasingly nostalgic) images, but they didn’t make me think or feel anything. I would recommend this book for flipping backward and forward just to pick some of the images out because they ARE so clever:

From “Snow”

“Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that...more
Jesse
Having had the opportunity to witness this amazing poet twice, which is fortunate considering his anti-commerciality, once in his rock band setting and once in a poetry reading, and having also read this collection of poems twice, my enthusiasm concerning David Berman may be a bit untoward, objectively speaking; so let it be known, I may possibly be deceiving myself! However, if one can trust my claims to sobriety, I assuredly must state that David Berman is one of the greatest English poets ali...more
Colin Moon
I actually purchased this book on a whim, not really sure of its contents or of who David Berman is; it would be years until I ended up falling in love with his band (Silver Jews), and another couple until I realized his involvement in Pavement.

2011:
This still mesmerizes me; Berman's ability to control poetry is both astounding and haphazard--while sometimes he veers into near-narrative, clean and clear, sometimes it's hard to get a jist of what's going on in the works. Sometimes whole poems cam...more
Christina
Trying to choose a favorite all-time book is an exercise somewhat akin (and equally distasteful) to choosing a favorite child. Nevertheless, this is without question, mine. And that's saying something, considering it's a collection of poetry, which I'm prone to avoiding (with a few exceptions).

I've been reading and re-reading Berman's debut poetry collection for just about ten years now, and it never gets old. I'm still finding new angles. I'm still astounded by the number of supposedly well-re...more
Mr. Brammer
I bought this book at a Silver Jews show, signed by the author. A lot of stars align with this book - Berman gives thanks to Charles Wright, a favorite poet of mine, author of "Black Zodiac" and "The Appalachian Book of the Dead", and UVa professor. There are also hints of John Ashbery's surrealism here, and echoes of Silver Jews lyrics ("a cold black maple hanger"). Berman is a great poet only in the sense that he has an idiosyncratic voice that leads him along to make twisty observations. Berm...more
Peter
Sep 16, 2007 Peter rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All pupils named Doug.
Shelves: poetry
"and the night we got so high we convinced ourselves
that the road was a hologram projected by the headlight beams."

Better than Jeff Tweedy, Jewel, and Billy Corgan's books of poetry combined.

Good times. very good times. astoundingly inventinve and bizarre. good segue into Simic and Tate. And probably other poets I should read. if you know of these other poets I should read be sure to let me know.

This is on my list of books I should always have at least five copies of on hand so I could shameles...more
Hans
I've been hoping to read this for many years and it lived up to the advance word...even though I could not live up to the role of the ideal reader.

Our world is so cluttered with sound and images that it's often hard to find the space (and brain space) to read and absorb poetry. It's also hard for me to switch reading mode from skimming articles and emails to deep reading. Many of the poems did not fully penetrate this barrier, but there was always a line or two that clicked. (e.g. "It's too nice...more
Adam Wilson
David Berman is the greatest living American poet, even though he only has one collection out (my claim is merited by his work as singer/lyricist of the Silver Jews and his book of cartoons and sketches, The Portable February). I like to imagine David Berman's work as the result of Jack Spicer beating up Robert Frost, or the wry tone of ee cummings to be found in a sturdy, prosey style of Hayden Carruth. There's also the underdog generosity of James Wright poking out of the countrypolitan wisecr...more
Joe
These poems fascinate me; they superficially resemble a whole host of Dylanesque "throw together a bunch of unrelated images and see what sticks" poetry that does nothing at all for me, but somehow there's something different here. A deeper resonance, a more vulnerable soul, a craving to be understood rather than admired? Maybe all those - I can't quite put my finger on it. I do know that many lines here are etched deeply in my soul, and I've given away at least three copies of this book. My fav...more
Kye Alfred Hillig
Since the lyrics for the Silver Jews happen to be my favorite of any groups, it seemed only right that Berman's poetry would hit a similar spot for me. It more than did. Berman never takes himself too seriously in his work, but always unearths something true about people that I'd never thought about. 'Actual Air' is ceaselessly clever, but never pretentious and never trying too hard. It's the sort of casual genius that is the envy of so many posers. For those of you who love poetry, but find you...more
Mark
The urban pastoralist. Unafraid of history, on good terms with the present. My favourite poem ends with a dog responding loyally to the narrator's calling voice. I like Berman's poems, songs (lyrics, mostly), even his interviews - transcripts of which read like poems or songs, funnily enough. Read this, his sole collection of poetry. There's no pretense, no wet-handed wankery, just good old-fashioned insight through ink and verse - and yeah, he's modern (McModern! McModern!), so you don't have t...more
Rachel Ann Brickner
I really really loved these poems. My favorites were "Governors on Sominex", "Imagining Defeat", "If There Was a Book About This Hallway", "Cassette County", "New York, New York", "The Night Nurse Essays", "The Homeowner's Prayer", "The New Idea", "Democratic Vistas", "Piano and Scene", "Of Things Found Where They Are Not Supposed To Be", "A Letter from Isaac Asimov to His Wife Janet, Written On His Deathbed", and "Self-Portrait at 28" was my absolute favorite of the collection. I've been reread...more
James
Sometimes, I'm not sure what to do with Berman. I'm impressed with the strength of his voice, the surprising nature of what he says. I like watching his poems unfold. Even the short ones have some unraveling to do. Mostly, I like enjoy that this is occasionally difficult poetry situated far away from the ivory towers of academe. Berman investigates the actualities of what's not there and not the philosophical implications of what's missing (this statement makes great sense to me now, but no doub...more
Shawn
Jul 15, 2008 Shawn rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People suffering from Malaise
Recommended to Shawn by: Paul Killebrew
I worry about David Berman sometimes. It's a selfish worry. I worry that he isn't going to write any more books of poetry. The Silver Jews are great and everything, but this book is way more important to me than any of their albums. His poems make me feel like there's so much unobserved grace in every single day. I keep it next to the crapper, and a view of Brooklyn rooftops. Elliptically, I'll come around and reread a few good ones, and it will set the tone for a conversation about something o...more
Sarah Elizabeth Chitwood
Expectations of Actual Air: a reminder of open spaces, freshness of breath through language, like drawing in oxygen before spitting out syllables to make a carbon-dioxide print with relative language.
Reality of reading Actual Air: inhaling in a vacuum, as if a closed off space holding nothing connects to something, a hallway to get somewhere profound, a place where one can breathe because words exist in an airless place.

Many of Berman's lines made me laugh. That noted, many of Berman's lines st...more
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David Berman was born in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1967. He graduated from the Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, the University of Virginia, and the University of Massachusetts. His band, the Silver Jews, has released four albums, The Natural Bridge, Starlite Walker, Ameri...more
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“...and my signature is drawn in magic marker
on the lower right hand corner of the window

so when something passes in the dark
it's captured for a moment inside my work.”
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