Editor’s Note

Introduction by Beth McDermott, Poetry Editor

In Maybe to Region, “region” is an important word often repeated in the poems and their titles.  “Region” means “a subdivision of the earth or universe” or “a subdivision of a whole” (OED); it seems less utilized in environmental writing than “nature,” “environment,” “landscape” or “place.”  And yet, when we talk about where we’re from, we talk in terms of “region.”  In Maybe to Region, the region is comprised of plains, river, small hills and horizon lines, not to mention the roads that weave among them.  Although Berlin’s imagery reminds me of the Midwest, her use of “region” is synecdoche—part for the whole.  In “Already a ghost, this town,” the inspiration for the poem is every town that’s a midpoint en route to someplace better:

& every town, really, & how could it anything
else when we’re made of those hauntings & empty

 

lots stretching where once we’d filled in every inch,
space crowded & crowding, then razed or let burn

 

or crumble whatever we’d once thought home,
thought yes. So, forgotten: angles unseen.

 

Because we’re quick to cold-shoulder whole seasons
here facing instead toward an ocean thinking

 

someday. Because such a window—unlikely.
O, little room where we live. Little room, there

 

may be nothing but what grids our streets. Maybe
nothing but small storefront, small hill, small

 

expanse, small creek, small light that lasts, small
patch of land & what gives way, small ground.

 

We’re quick to leave behind what we no longer want or need, including whole regions.  Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side.  But the volta in the sonnet-like poem resonates both literally and figuratively: “Because such a window—unlikely” doesn’t just suggest that living by the ocean is unlikely; it also suggests that such an expansive view is unlikely.  “Little room” is not just what the “we” has in a physical sense; it’s what we have in terms of perspective.  We live in a region that limits our sense of landscape, our sense of horizon.  But we also live in bodies that limit what we perceive.  Rather than pining for another region, the poem argues that midpoints and stopping grounds should be seen as lasting and worthwhile: “Maybe nothing but small storefront, small hill, small // expanse, small creek, small light that lasts, small / patch of land” is a beautiful list of what it means to exist in a small, communal space.  In our communities we coexist beneath “small light that lasts” on what could be described as a “small / patch of land.”  And yet the poem ends with uncertainty.  Berlin is never very far from “maybe,” and the use of that word, like “region,” also implies a middle ground; only this time the middle ground is figurative.  It’s not just a stopping point between two oceans but a refusal to say for certain—part of “what gives way, small ground.”

Region is also intimately tied to memory.  In “Because the journal of memory stays,” memory is shaped by extreme locality, as if part of a region could be further shaved to fit an individual’s unique experience.  It is the journal of memory—what is constantly being written—that stays

local—indicates visibility of
& every increment that rises,

 

every hourly chance—we forget
sometimes how season shapes

 

every single where, as in where
we live or where we do not.

 

But in the journal of memory
local is how we remember

 

everything, where we were
standing when the news came in,

 

how we dropped to our knees
in the kitchen & how always

 

on days like that the sky here
so blue it couldn’t have been.

One is reminded of Emerson who wrote, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”  Certainly our outlook on nature is influenced by “where we were / standing.”  But implicit in Berlin’s lines is what is not local; that is, as a portion, “region” is always defined by what it isn’t.  “The sky here / so blue it couldn’t have been” recalls the memory which, although rooted in locality, is emotionally too much to capture under “the sky here.”  The speakers’ reaction to “the news,” although linked to a spot—as if we could drop a pin at that point in the kitchen—is actually vast, expansive, beneath a more representative sky.

Like Berlin’s speakers’ refusal to experience “region” half-heartedly, Maybe to Region refuses to take language at face value.  Reinvigorating words like “maybe” and “region” in syntax that causes us to pause and take notice is in part a plea to “come back in awe.”  If we can come back in awe to language, maybe we can do the same when it comes to the world around us, even when that world is part of a larger world, a region that perhaps not even the banks are interested in buying.  Although this isn’t an overtly political collection of poems, Berlin’s sensitivity towards language suggests what’s wrong with a commoditized or anthropocentric view of nature; a region’s worth is more than extrinsic.  “Call it deliberate, yours, & then”:

what tops the banks is want. No ocean
-view & no highway driving toward

 

a lake too far, but instead this near
-horizon, prairied, that keeps

 

& keeps company. Every rivering
body of & this sky, these small

 

elevations & slighter curves, that
land & landscape can be its own

 

welcoming. If to region here again
maybe you could come back

 

in awe. Because before we were—
as if to write it down, carved out even

 

here—weather measured time in units
near-impossible. Weather made passage.

I think I speak for all of us at Kudzu House Quarterly when I describe these lines as touching in their expanse: “this near- / horizon, prairied, that keeps // & keeps company” reminds us of “before we [even] were.”  “Before” is when “weather measured time in units / near-impossible” and made passage that will happen again.  And the plea is to notice it—“every rivering / body of & this sky, these small // elevations & slighter curves, that / land & landscape can be its own // welcoming.”  Maybe to region is also a verb.

 

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