Kathleen Rooney interviewed poet and rock star, David Berman, in 2003. Berman’s first book of poems, Actual Air, was critically acclaimed. Now that it’s sitting on my coffee table, I can see why, for he writes strangely lucid lines like: “Out the garage window he sees a group of ugly children enter the forest. Their mouths look like coin slots.”
KR: Whose work, if anyone’s, are you influenced by? Who do you like to read?
DB: The books I took the most from were Henry Miller’s Nexus, Sexus, and Plexus when I was a 14-year-old. It gave me permission to enjoy life. He was filled with praise for the universe and scorn for suckers. After that, I’d say Robert Stone, especially Dog Soldiers and a short story called “Helping.” Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samara, Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine and Melville’s The Confidence Man had an effect on me.
KR: I can’t help but notice that you don’t list any poets among your chief influences–are there any poets (or, for that matter, songwriters) whose work you especially enjoy or from whom you draw inspiration?
DB: There are hardly any great poets from the last 50 years. Poetry has been taken over by uncharismatic nerds who use the word “desire” pointlessly and “absence” as a noun even more pointlessly. That being said, the poets that kill me are, Kenneth Koch, and…..Kenneth Koch. After that it’s Michael Burkard (who I can’t figure out why he’s so amazing), half of Franz Wright, Robert Frost, and, big surprise, Wallace Stevens. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is like the “Stairway to Heaven” of 20th-century poetry.