Saturday, February 23, 2013


John Berry breaks conventions with his original publication Artifacts (Benicia, California, 2012). This self-published book has photographs by Tora Williamson-Berry, and the most striking aspect is the full-color cover with no title information. This leaves focus completely on the photograph of a weathered boat under two trees. It is stranded among blue sky, mountains, and yellowed grass; no longer does it travel the ocean. No question this is about human-made “artifacts” within a framework of time and elements.

 Berry’s text, within, is a baker’s dozen poems, and another six photographs complete this publication. The book is 32 pages on glossy-finish paper--a true collector's item as well as strongly stated artwork.
The verse shows a lot of variety, yet the theme of history recurs in myriad ways. “All the Way Down” starts at the surface, a “Tel,” but below are a “Byzantine Church,” a “Roman mosaic floor,” and “Iron Age fort,” and finally a Bronze Age floor littered with “shards.” But below this, yet another layer:

 A storyteller

Tells children how this world balances on Turtle’s back.

When they ask what Turtle stands on,

The answer is,

Another turtle,

And under him?


It’s just turtles all the way down.

 The recursive looping of history is continuous theme, especially seen in  “Veterans Day 2012,” where one generation fights the war between the states, next the Spanish American War, the next the Great War, then World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and finally the Middle Eastern wars. Like the layers of artifacts in “All the Way Down,” this is a layered continuum; this sequence also has its artifacts, as Grandfather Logan tells about his own grandfather: “So, my cousin and I, / We stole grandpa’s Confederate Cavalry saber.” Mementos of war also are artifacts. Human intervention within natural processes is the continuing statement of the entire book. The photographs of nature create a counterpoint to poems like "Colonization Reflection."

 Berry and Williamson-Berry create a high-quality, striking chapbook of both photographs and verse.
John Berry is a Choctaw, Cherokee, and Scots-Irish poet, stomp dancer, and librarian. He received his MLS from the University of Missouri-Columbia and MA and BA from California State University in Fullerton. He is the past president of the American Indian Library Association. His poetry and writing are published widely in print and on the web. He is Native American Studies librarian for University of California-Berkelely's Ethnic Studies Library.