“Mast Year: poems” by Katherine Hagopian Berry; Littoral Books, Portland, Maine, 2020; 116 pages, paperback, $22.

“Mast Year: poems” by Katherine Hagopian Berry

 “Mast years are mysterious things,” Katherine Hagopian Berry of Bridgton explains in the note to her new poetry collection “Mast Year.” Oaks overproduce acorns, she observes, squirrel, chipmunk and predator populations explode, and nature in general makes a “crazy magical overpowering offering.” So she thought it fitting to name the collection of poems she worked on and read from over a recent productive one-year period accordingly, describing that year as “wonderful, magical, fruitful and generative.”

The poems are grouped under nature writing’s conventional seasonal headings, though they are not strictly nature poems. Themes of home (“Homebody”), family (“Irma, Sandra and Lou”), religion (“Sukkot”), social responsibility (“Sestina for Choice”) and indeed the wonders of nature (“Corpse Flower,” “Emily Dickinson’s Bees”) play in and out of the poems, often culminating as double- or triple-threaded conceits of varying success. A particularly clear and affecting example is “Open Season,” in which a young doe is frozen by a distant gunshot, prompting the speaker of the poem to ponder the different layers of fear. One layer involves her protective instincts for her own daughter, and ends elegantly on: “We have posted signs / bright orange on the pale trees. / We have said no hunting here.”

There’s a disposition to play not only imagery and events in unexpected juxtapositions, but also language itself. Strange words pop up playfully throughout: “Abrash,” “Wessie, Widdershins,” “Metathesiophobia,” “Glukopikron; Sweet-Bitter,” to name some just in titles. “Bicornate Uteruses Are Typical of Many Ungulates” turns out to be about rabbits, not deer or moose. Syntax itself is at play more or less throughout; the book is filled, for example, with noun-modifier inversions such as “worlds mysterious,” “weather cool,” “signs individual,” which add a sort of sing-song oddness to already odd structures. Readers looking for linguistic surprises will find them here.

“Mast Year” is Katherine Hagopian Berry’s first collection of poems, and includes an author interview, in keeping with the other volumes in Littoral Books’ growing poetry list. The book is available through the publisher’s website  and local book sellers.

 Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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