Getting to Know Ben Berman, Author of Writing While Parenting

Writing While Parenting is a collection of essays that explores the connections between poetry and parenting. How did you discover that you wanted to write about the overlap of these two subjects?

Many of these essays come from a monthly column that I started writing for GrubStreet when my daughters were one- and three-years-old. There were many days, back then, when I was so busy that I worried I was going to have to give up writing entirely. Working on these essays became my way of searching for scraps of poetry in what sometimes seemed like a very unpoetic landscape. My older daughter would refuse to go to school unless she found a pair of underwear that matched her sweater, and I would think: that’s just like that Charles Simic quote about a poem needing to operate as a tight orchestration of hidden patterns!

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

The final essay in the book [spoiler alert] is titled, Explaining to My Daughters Why I Wake Up at Three Every Morning to Write, which pretty much sums up my writing routine. Some of that is out of necessity. Between teaching full-time and raising young kids, I don’t typically have a whole lot of time to write during the day. But I also love writing in those hours between night and day, when my mind is able to slip back and forth between thoughts and dreams. 

Where do your poems most often “come from”—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

Many of these essays start with a small story from the world of parenting then transition into a larger meditation on poetry. So my writing process often started with simply recording all the bewildering things that my kids had said or done the previous day. One essay begins with my four-year-old telling me: You’re my best friend in the entire world, but I wish Tom Brady was my dad. Another begins with her throwing up all over my bare feet. Part of the fun of the challenge was to begin with the least poetic material that I could find then try to launch into a much more serious meditation on writing.

Which writers (living or dead) have influenced you the most?

One of the things that I love about reading and writing is that they feel like life-long apprenticeships. I am always discovering new writers who inspire me. In some ways, that’s the biggest influence – just knowing there are always so many new books out there waiting to be read. 

What excites you most about your new collection? (Significance of the title? Overarching themes? Process/experience of assembling it?)  

Writing, for me, often feels transcendent – I sit down to play with words and before I know it, I’m on the verge of some minor epiphany. But it can be hard to find time for deep contemplation when you are knee-deep in diapers. I think that the process of writing these essays was transformative for me. It offered me a way to find humor and meaning in the chaos of my life, so that even when it was late and I was exhausted and I’d go to brush my teeth and would find a pair of my four-year-old’s socks in the toilet, instead of crying myself to sleep on the bathroom floor, I would think: okay, I’m gonna try to turn this into a metaphor.

Ben Berman is the author of three books of poems and the new book of essays, Writing While Parenting. He has won the Peace Corps Award for the Best Book of Poetry, has twice been shortlisted twice for the Massachusetts Book Awards and has received awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, New England Poetry Club and Somerville Arts Council. He’s been teaching for over twenty years and currently teaches creative writing classes at Brookline High School. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters