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Actual Air

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  2,399 ratings  ·  185 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 readers ...more
Paperback, 106 pages
Published February 22nd 2000 by Grove Press, Open City Books (first published July 1999)
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Average rating 4.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,399 ratings  ·  185 reviews

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Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: You, All, Everybody
Recommended to s.penkevich by: ULine Brothers
*Brief update learning of the passing of David Berman and revisiting this collection all evening. 8/7/19*
Hearing that David Berman is gone really stung today, not just because the way his poetry, music and lyrics have had a large impact on me throughout my life--particularly in hard times, but mostly because he was such a bright light while enduring his own personal struggles that eventually became too much for him. His recent album with Purple Mountains has been in massive rotation for me
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Nov 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, plays-n-poems
2019: I don't normally repost reviews because I'm insecure and hate things I've said since right after I said them, but I am so fucking heartbroken that David Berman just died that I must "ode" him somehow, and this is all I've got right now. Well, this and Berman's just released Purple Mountains record. What a cavernous loss for the written word, this death. Anyway, long ago I said some things about how much this man and his amazing recordings meant to me...

Reading poetry
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Aug 13, 2019

I was supposed to be seeing Purple Mountains play tomorrow night. Instead, I guess I'll be at home, having dinner with my wife, watching my cats laze around and play, watching the late-summer sunlight fade out of the sky through the red maple in my front yard, trying to appreciate again the way the dark leaves change color as the light of the day changes, from a kind of amber to something more inky as evening comes, maybe I'll also listen to some records by the ma
Brian Foley
Oct 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: argonaut
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
Sep 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Jul 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"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, 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 o
Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. Sometimes Berman so singularly wrangles English into uncanny, dream-logic revelation it gives me goddamn chills.
Rob Baker
Jun 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
When I picked up "Actual Air", I thought the author, David Berman, was unknown to me. However, the first poem in this collection, "Snow", I had read before; it may be a "greatest hit" of sorts for him, as there seem to be a lot of online references and commentary about it.

Some of what works about "Snow" --Berman's playfulness and seeming endless supply of fresh, spot-on images/metaphors, --thankfully show up throughout the collection, keeping the reader amused, awakened, and impresse
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Clinton Smith
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Most people will likely know him from his music, but Berman is also an able poet, if inconsistent. He has a firm control of much of his material; a good sense of balance between narrative passages and more free-association types of passages; and a sense of what will be evocative, what will seem like some sort of subtle twist. The poetry has “music”; when read aloud, one gets more from it than when one reads it on the page in many spots. He also, unlike many who perhaps have slightly had certain ...more
May 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 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 thei
Colin Moon
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, own
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.

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. Sometim
Mr. Brammer
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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'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/>
Aug 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Deeply enjoyed these poems; the 90s oeuvre! Virginian poet David Berman is funny, wry, and spot-on. So many good one-liners, too. Thanks to my husband, who always introduces me to the great poets hiding on our shelves. I will now probably mimic Guion's behavior: pulling out this book of poems to read to dinner guests when the conversation turns into a certain light.
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pomes
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.)
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"We know there is policy like ice sculpture, / policy that invisibly dictates the shape / of the freeway forests and the design / of the tollbooths that passing children / send their minds into."
James Tierney
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
At its best, Berman's sly, cold morning vernacular is marvelous to behold.
Mar 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: always-reading
If Christ had died in a hallway we might pray in hallways
or wear little golden hallways around our necks.
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I need to search for more contemporary poetry like this. This collection really touched me. It was funny, sublime, lonely, and felt eerily like the author was able to access some of my strangest thoughts.

Here's a sample gem to be mined from the collection:

Due to its dense history of uncomfortable moments,
our elevator is haunted with poorly conceived smiles
and sinking hearts, so I take the stairs.
Aug 07, 2017 added it
Got this as a gift from a very dear friend and i have treasured it ever since. It served as a wonderful companion to my 20's and is still relevant in my 30's. I often come back to these poems when i'm feeling lost, or lethargic, or missing everyone i've ever known. And although it doesn't quite cure those feelings, it reminds me that i am human (we all are!) and sometimes just remembering that little fact is enough to move you.
B. Mason
I couldn't get a handle on the course of Berman's poems. He challenged my expectations with each work in this piece, often conjuring mad visions with the consistency of the white whiskey bottle. At their best, the poems send the reader down a US highway that is made of familiar materials but the scenery feels completely foreign.
Oct 16, 2019 added it
Shelves: poetry
I experienced a lot of these poems as series of intricate images and dense, surprising phrases. While I usually like a little something more straightforward to hold onto, there are some lines and poems here that I'll remember: "his final words may have been damaged, / dormant expressions clambering out of their graves / with dust on the unstressed syllables..."
Scott Trinkle
Really really loved lots of these.
Apr 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, reviewed, 2013
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,

Lisa Eckstein
Jul 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2011
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 presen
Tracy O
Nov 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
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 s
Sarah Elizabeth Chitwood
Aug 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 stan
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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, American
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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.”
“There were no new ways to understand the world, only new days to set our understanding against.” 5 likes
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